Father Donald Senior, CP

April 11: Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Not seeing but believing

Acts 4:32-35; Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31

This semester I have been teaching a course on the Gospel of John at Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park. Due to the pandemic, this course, like all our others, is online.

There are some advantages teaching via Zoom. One major plus for me is that I get to see the faces of all 28 graduate students in the class at the same time. To tell the truth, it has been a joy for me to work one more time through this profoundly beautiful Gospel, accompanied by the thoughts and questions of young inquiring minds and hearts.

Selections from John dominated the readings for Holy Week. On Holy Thursday, it was the account of the foot washing, that vivid example of humble service and tender love that Jesus wanted his disciples to remember and imitate. On Good Friday, it was John’s passion narrative that the church reads each year, which is a remarkable account of Jesus’ arrest, interrogation, torture and crucifixion. It is also an account in which the power of Jesus over death manages to break through in every scene. 

And last week on Easter Sunday, we heard the exquisite account of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb of Jesus on Sunday morning, choked with grief, only to discover the tomb is empty. Later, in the garden where the tomb was, she encounters the risen Jesus himself: “Mary,” he said to her; “Rabbouni, my teacher,” she replies. Also, John notes, Mary Magdalene was the one who first brought the good news of the resurrection to the rest of Jesus’ disciples, earning her the early Christian title “Apostle of the Apostles.”

This Sunday we hear another passage from John — the risen Christ’s appearance to his disciples. In fact, two readings from John are merged into one in our Lectionary selection. In the first, Jesus appears to the disciples who are huddled in fear and confusion in a closed room. Into that room the risen Jesus brings “peace” and “joy.” He breathes on them the very Spirit of God and, in crisp Johannine terms, entrusts to them his own mission to the world: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

The reader of John’s Gospel (as my own students noted) make the connection to an earlier key text of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son … so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (3:16-17).

But the extraordinary part of this first appearance that binds it to the second is the reference to Jesus’ wounds. Christ is risen, but his transformed body still bears the nail marks in his hands and the spear wound in his side. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ death is, paradoxically, seen as the greatest expression of God’s love for the world revealed by Jesus, the word made flesh: “No greater love than this,” he had told them on the eve of his death, “than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” So, in John’s Gospel the wounds are signs of love.

This is what makes this appearance scene all the more poignant. “Doubting Thomas” was not present at the first appearance and insists he will not believe Jesus has overcome death until he can see the wounds. So the risen Christ reappears and offers Thomas the proof he demanded. Overwhelmed by seeing the wounded and risen Christ, Thomas professes one of the New Testament’s most profound acclamations about Jesus: “My Lord and my God.”

The scene closes with a challenging statement: “Blessed are those who do not see yet believe.” The first disciples saw the wounds of love he bore. We see only the impact of that love revealed in the lives of people who believe in Jesus and follow his example. They are the genuine “saints” we see every day: parents, first responders, service workers, idealistic young people eager for life. They are holy ones like the first Christians, who built communities of love and justice and generosity, described in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.



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