April 11th 2021. Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)
GOSPEL John 20:19-21
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading . . .
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GOSPEL John 20:19-21
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."
But he said to them,
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nail marks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe."
Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
SUMMARY . . . The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us of the life of community of the early Church. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the early Church was not some sort of unspecified power, but was oriented to the relationships between the believers themselves, a life lived out concretely in love. In the Gospel, Thomas is absent when the apostles gather on the Sunday after the resurrection. He refuses to believe that they have seen him and insists that he himself have the same personal experience that they had. And when does he have that personal experience? Exactly one week later, when the apostles gather again on Sunday and Jesus appears among them. The implication is clear: the normal place to encounter the risen Lord is in the Christian assembly, in the life of relationships that we live out with others. In his first letter, St John asks how I can claim to love the God that I cannot see if I do not love the brother or sister that I do see. We experience the risen Lord in our relationships with those around us. This is the place where he appears to us and where he wishes us to work out our salvation.
Why does Thomas not encounter the risen Lord?
On this Second Sunday of Easter – traditionally known as “Low Sunday” – we hear the account of what happened eight days after the resurrection when Jesus appears. Thomas is not with the others and they tell him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas replies that if he does not have the same experience that they had, they how can they expect him to believe? After all, they were not inclined to believe the testimony of Mary Magdalen when she came running from the empty tomb. Thomas refuses to believe unless he has a personal experience of the Lord. But why did Thomas not have this personal experience with the other disciples? Before answering this question, let us look at the first reading.
We have an appointment with the Christian community every week. This is the normal way to encounter the risen Lord, in the shared life of the Church. Thomas absented himself from the assembly and did not meet the Lord.
The first reading is a luminous proclamation of the life enjoyed by the early Church. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favour was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them”. It is worthwhile repeating these words because they give us a key for understanding what happened to Thomas. The life of the Christian is not the life of a superman, a perfect existence lived out by individuals. Rather it is a life of communion, having one heart and one mind, where everything is done with others in mind, where everything is done out of love. The new life which the Holy Spirit brought to the early church was not power of some unspecified sort, but oriented to the quality of the relations between believers. They became “one heart and one mind”. It was for this reason that Thomas did not encounter the Lord on the Sunday after the resurrection, and it was for precisely this reason that he did meet the Lord another week later. In other words, the real issue is not that Thomas did not see the Lord. The real issue is that he did not remain with the others. According to the typical way of counting days for the Jews, “eight days” indicates the passage of exactly one week. Every week we have an appointment with the Christian assembly, an appointment with communion. The resurrection is communion, fraternal love. Consequently, no one can live the experience of the resurrection as a private event. Thomas cannot experience the risen Lord until he is together with the others disciples. And, in fact, a week later Thomas is with the others and encounters the Lord.
We have the life of the Holy Spirit within us to the degree that we build up the Church, to the degree that we love one another
You might reply, did not Paul encounter the Lord in a completely private fashion on the road to Damascus? But Paul is left blind by the event and needs to be led by others. He does not receive his sight until he meets Ananias, the leader of the Christians that Paul was on his way to destroy. Ananias says to him, “Brother, the Lord Jesus has sent me that to you”. Ananias calls the very man who had come to destroy their community “Brother”! Until he meets the one who will welcome him as a brother, Paul will not recover his sight. Even in the most private of encounters, the experience is not complete until others are present. The experience of fraternity, the fact of living the life of the Church, this is the issue! Unless we build up the Church, our Christianity is fraudulent. The Holy Spirit is the communion between the Father and Son. If he enters into us then it is to put communion into our hearts. It is in the Church above all that one encounters the risen Lord because the Lord’s intention is that we be together! Life is beautiful when it is lived together, in relationship. A life of solitude is generally an unhappy one.
If we wish to experience the power of the risen Lord, then we need to do so in the place where he himself wishes to save us: through our relationships of self-effacing love with those around us
There are many things that could be said about this beautiful Gospel. The power of the gift of the Holy Spirit is proclaimed for the forgiveness of sins. We have focussed on just one aspect of the text. If you want to experience the risen Lord, then it is essential to remain with the Twelve, to remain with the Church. Do not seek to create a do-it-yourself Christianity. What individualism there is nowadays in various approach to the faith and in devotional practices! A faith that tries to function just between me and Jesus and Jesus and me does not work at all. To love God and to love our neighbour is the same commandment. The first letter of St John asks how I can claim to love the God that I cannot see if I do not love the brother that I can see? This Sunday proclaims that the place where the Lord appears is in relationship. We do not find him in some area of our private lives that we have constructed ourselves. Rather we find him in the place where he wishes to save us: in love, in relationship.