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Second Sunday of Easter – Year B



There is a clear motif of connection that produces faith in today’s second reading and gospel, and the first reading from Acts 4 identifies the followers of Jesus as the ‘believers.’ It is unfortunate, though, that this focus on belief has led to a culture of placing intellectual assent to a set of doctrines as the defining mark of a Christian. However, Jesus’s own emphasis is not on belief; it’s on love as the expression of relationship,

‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:35)

Acts 4:32-35 A careful reading of the Acts of the Apostles reveals that Luke paints an ideal picture of the early communities of the Jesus people. In today’s few verses Luke highlights two things, the esteem given to the Apostles because of their intimate connection with Jesus, and the unity that characterised the whole assembly to the extent that nobody lacked what was necessary for daily living. What Luke describes was actually a pure form of communism where goods were shared so that everyone had enough. It would be unheard of in Greco-Roman society that people of unequal rank would share their goods.

These early communities obviously felt the obligation to care for those in need, no doubt following the emphasis made by Jesus, ‘I was hungry and you gave me food…’ (Mt 25:35-40). Later on, Luke will add snippets of information about group organisation and the various ministerial roles that were set up to serve the members.

Psalm 117/118 This psalm is a thanksgiving song. The presider sings the deeds of the Lord and the people sing in chorus the refrain his khesed endures forever. Khesed is that Hebrew term that describes loving kindness marked by unwavering loyalty. There is really no English single word equivalent. A good deal of the words of the Hebrew prophets trace the goodness done by God to the Hebrew people to bring home the importance of gratitude. American 19th century author and speaker Hannah Whitall Smith wrote, ‘The soul that gives thanks can find comfort in everything; the soul that complains can find comfort in nothing.’

True faith in God and Jesus expresses itself in a life of love and compassion

1 John 5:1-6 The primacy of love in the life of one committed to Jesus Christ is a characteristic of the letters of the Elder, John. This love is born of our relationship with God, our fellow human beings and all creation. It starts with the conviction that Jesus is the anointed one of God (the Christ = messiah) and Son of God, but it is not quite the same as reciting any one of the creeds. The Greek word used in the New Testament for believing is pisteuō, which implies being convinced of a person or truth and then placing one’s trust in it. To ‘trust’ and ‘rely on’ are integral to the notion of belief and this is much further than what we generally understand by belief. Faith in God and Jesus that does not express itself in a life of love and compassion is not true faith.

John is telling his community in this reading that we show our love for God and one another when we carry out his ordinances or commandments, and he adds that these commandments are not heavy. This idea is summed up in his analogy of the love of parent and child. The respect and affection a child has for its parents flows out in the child’s concern to do what pleases the parents. Throughout his letters John also makes the point that genuine love for others is a sure sign of our authentic love for God.

When he writes that Jesus came by water and blood John is most probably referring to the mission of Jesus that began with his immersion in the water of the Jordan by John and was fulfilled with the shedding of his blood on the cross. Just before he died Jesus passed on his Spirit to the Beloved Disciple who bore testimony to the death of Jesus (John 21:24). Referring to water, blood and Spirit bearing witness is a nod to the Jewish rule of legal testimony that requires three witnesses to verify a narrative or statement.

No recriminations, no blaming, just a greeting of peace

John 20:19-31 On the same Sunday as the resurrection (Hebrew days of the week are numbered from yom rishon =day one [Sunday] through to shabbat =stop/cease day) Jesus came and stood among his friends. They had locked themselves in for fear of the Jewish authorities. Notice there was no mention of the Roman authorities. This is a good reflection on Roman administrative policy which considered it enough to cut off the head of a rebellious organisation in order to put a stop to the movement. Clearly Pilate did not see the followers of Jesus as a threat to social order. This scene may also echo the hostility that the Johannine community of the 90s experienced when they were expelled from the synagogue because of their belief in Jesus as Son of God. They, too, probably met in secret ‘for fear of the Jews.’

Jesus gave the group the usual Jewish greeting of shlama ‘imhkoun (peace be with you, in Aramaic) then showed them his wounds, indicating that they were not seeing a ghost. In both Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek the word for ‘hand’ refers to the lower arm, taking in wrist as well as palm and fingers. They were stunned, so, he repeated the greeting – no second thoughts, no recriminations, no blaming, just a greeting of peace. This recalls the peace that Jesus offered his friends at the Last Supper, that is, a deep godly peace, not the peace of this world. Tradition seems to take it as given that this gathering consisted solely of eleven men, but there is nothing to suggest that the women who were present the crucifixion were not also in this company.

Then Jesus performed a symbolic action that reads like a liturgical gesture, as he passed on his Spirit to the disciples. We recall here the Semitic association of breath and spirit, rendered by the same word, ruakh, which gives life, inspiration and activity. With this action he formally commissioned the group to take his message to the world. The Greek verb ‘send out’ is apostellō, hence an apostle is one sent out, and in this case with the support and power of the Holy Spirit.

In John’s gospel sin is often associated with not accepting Jesus as the one revealing God (8:24, 9:31-34, 15:22). Jesus is saying here that those who reject his message relayed by the disciples choose to remain in their sin. Those who accept the Spirit and the word of Jesus can be pronounced ‘forgiven’ by the disciples. In effect, this giving of the Holy Spirit and the sending out of the disciples is the Johannine Pentecost. Luke spreads out chronologically the resurrection, ascension and giving of the Spirit and describes the coming of the Spirit as a climax on Pentecost in Acts 2.

Thomas the utters the statement that brings out the full force John’s gospel

The scene with Thomas occurs a week later and follows on Thomas’ declaration that he cannot bring himself to believe unless, like the others, he sees and touches Jesus. Referring to this disciples as ‘doubting Thomas’ is probably not fair. The other disciples went through a similar reaction when Mary reported that she had seen Jesus. It was only when Jesus actually appeared to them that their fear turned to joy. It is as if Jesus is giving Thomas a definitive answer to the questions he and Philip raised at the Last Supper (John 14:5-8). Thomas the utters the statement that brings out the full force of the whole of John’s gospel. The Johannine community of the 90s would hear in Thomas’ declaration an echo of the title that the emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96) claimed for himself, dominus et deus noster, our lord and god. The irony is that the Christians could appreciate the identity of the real Lord and God.

Thomas has always represented those who cannot come to faith unless they see for themselves. The Johannine writer makes the point that those who commit to Jesus without having seen or touched him physically are truly blessed.

This is really not a story about ‘doubting Thomas’ nor is it about creeds and confessions of faith. It is primarily about Jesus coming to us and delighting to be with us. Notice how he said at his final meal, ‘I have eagerly longed to have this meal with you’. Now he returns to his friends in the setting of a meal with an exchange of intimate friendship over food and hospitality. Here is relationship, the unity of spirits and personal connection at its best. This is grounds for deep gratitude. Fear and gratitude cannot exist in the brain at the same time. Thankfulness drives out fear and gratitude replaces grief.

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When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them. Martin Buber (20th century Austrian Jewish and Israeli philosopher)

Hospitality consists of a little fire, a little food and immense quiet. Ralph W. Emerson

Humility is the recognition that what you don’t know is more than what you do know Anonymous

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Howlers

A skeleton is a man with his inside out and his outside off.

The different kinds of senses are common sense and nonsense.

Artificial respiration is what you make a person alive with when they are only just dead.

Laurie Woods

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