Watch “Doubting Thomas” – Reflection for 2nd Sunday of Easter by Bro Padraig McDonald.
Word of God and Salesian Life Fr Juan Josè Bartolomè SDB
Second Sunday of Easter Year A – Lectio divina on John 20,19-31
Today the gospel presents two scenes, and two themes, from the post-resurrection experience. On the evening of the day of Easter, Jesus appears in the midst of his disciples. He overcomes their isolation and their fears, giving them peace and a new mission, that of forgiving sins. When they got over their incredulity, he breathed on them his Spirit of new life. He made them new men with a new mission of forgiveness for all. Eight days later Jesus reappeared to overcome the incredulity of the disciple who, because he had not been there the first day, was unable to believe what the others told him. This second appearance of Jesus was intended, not just to bring the unbeliever to faith, but to praise those who believe without having to ‘touch’ the miracle. Even Thomas’s profession of faith, one of the best in all of Scripture, cannot be compared to the faith of those who believe in the Risen One without needing to see him. Anyone who really believes in the Resurrection cannot allow fear to keep him closed in on himself and his own problems. He has a task to perform in the world, a mission of pardon. To believe in the Risen Lord it is not necessary to see him alive. It is enough to believe that he is alive.
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
I Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.
The text gives an account of two meetings of the Risen Lord with his disciples. Both took place in Jerusalem but not on the same day, and they do not serve the same purpose. What happened on the evening of resurrection day (20,19-23) follows the pattern of other accounts of the Lord’s appearances – the unexpected presence of Jesus, joyful recognition by those who saw him, and a universal mission. The second appearance one week later (20,24-29), develops a recurring motif – those who have not had a personal encounter with the Risen Lord find it difficult to believe. The community of believers and the individual believer were born in the same way, through an encounter with the Lord Jesus. When the Risen Lord appears to a group and confers on it a universal mission, the Church is born. When he makes himself known to a disciple and overcomes his incredulity, he transforms him into a believer.
The first account is therefore the ‘birth certificate’ of the Christian community. The Risen Lord confers his power, his Spirit, and his mission, the forgiveness of sins, on the group of disciples that he has chosen as his witnesses. The second account, on the other hand, dramatizes the individual journey to faith in the resurrection, of one who, not convinced by the testimony of his colleagues, had to see and touch the Risen Lord for himself. It would have been better if he had believed solely on the preaching of the apostles.
The first account is limited to a mere outline, but it is the more important. The Risen Jesus finds the group locked in the house and full of fear. The death of Jesus has filled his followers with anxiety. There is clearly an apologetic motive – these terrified men would not have become courageous preachers if they had not had a real encounter with the Lord Jesus. The unexpected presence of Jesus in their midst restores their joy. The one sent by God, restored to life and now returned to the Father, entrusts a mission to his followers and sends them out (20,21: as the Father sent me, so am I sending you). The sending is an act of investiture and a sign of trust. The handing on of the task from Christ to his Christians makes them new men, they receive from the Risen Lord his life-giving breath and a mission which makes them new. The conviction that the resurrection experience is the origin of and the reason behind the Christian mission is to be found in the whole gospel tradition (Mk 16,15-16; Mt 28,19-20; Lk 24,47; Acts 1,8). It is typical of John that he sees the mission of the Church as one of universal forgiveness of sins. The Christian community is the only place in the world where sin has no future.
The second episode is developed in more detail. It describes how a disciple arrives personally at faith in the resurrection. In this way John wanted to show that it was not the testimony of the disciples (20,25) but the Risen One in person who guided his witnesses to faith in Him. He also shows, at the same time, that those who come later will not require a special intervention in order to believe. The testimony of the apostles will suffice. Thomas, one of the twelve (11,6; 14,5) personifies the inability of the first disciples to accept the fact that Jesus had risen. This episode also highlights the difficulty facing the second generation of Christians who will have to believe without proof. Thomas was not with the others when Jesus came (20,24). His insistence on touching and seeing, on feeling with his own hands, in order to identify and believe (20,25; 4,48. Lk 24,37) is linked to the way he understood the final resurrection of our bodies. He did not see it as impossible, but he laid down conditions before he could believe. In reality, Thomas did not ask for anything more than what Jesus had already granted the other disciples (20,20; 20,18.25). But it is one thing to receive the gift and quite another thing to demand it. Jesus gave him what he asked for in order to believe (20,27) but he makes no concession in his response. The further believers are removed from the events of the resurrection, the greater opportunity they have to be happy believers. That warning and that promise are directed to all who hear the gospel. It is possible to believe without touching and without proof. And this is the faith that makes us happy.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
John recalls what happened on the evening of that first day when Jesus, newly risen, had to lead his disciples out of their fear and doubt and convince them that he was really alive. That was the day when Christianity was born. Recalling today our origins, the moment of the founding of our faith and of our life in common, should lead us to rediscover the mission for which we, as Christians, were born. There were two missionary tasks in particular given that day to those who knew that Jesus was alive. If we can make them our own, at a distance of two thousand years, it will guarantee that, with the Risen Lord, we too will discover the experience that is the basis of our Christian faith. This is our opportunity!
The first disciples were closed in their fears and in their homes, even though Jesus was already risen. Fear of the Jews compelled them to stay together and to share their uncertainty. They were so alarmed by what had happened to Jesus that they could not imagine that God had already intervened on his behalf. Jesus had to present himself full of life and he gave them a task. He sent them into the world with his Spirit as viaticum – food for the journey – and forgiveness of sins as their mission. It was a strange mission to entrust to men who had run away from the world and could not hide their fear! They were filled with joy on seeing again the Lord for whom they had grieved, but it was the gift of his Spirit and the mandate to forgive sins that freed them from their fear and changed their lives. Jesus breathed on them and created new possibilities in them. These men who had been unable to go out of the house for fear that they would die like their Lord and Master, were now transformed into fearless witnesses of his resurrection. In accepting the mission to bring pardon to the world that previously they had feared so much, they received the Spirit of the Risen Jesus. They also rose that day, to forgive the world!
Do we not see ourselves mirrored in those disciples who preferred to live, trapped by their fears, avoiding contact with a hostile environment, and by that very attitude running the risk of not meeting the Risen Lord, and losing the opportunity to regain their joy? We run the risk of becoming like those first disciples, and the risk of losing our enthusiasm and the joy of being Christians. Jesus is alive! He is risen! As Christians we live to proclaim our faith in him, without fear or complexes. It is just not possible to know that Jesus is risen and live as if he were still dead. If we really believe that Jesus is alive, we have no right to remain silent, closing ourselves in our houses and running away from giving testimony. If we are silent about what we have experienced, we condemn Jesus to anonymity and we rob the world of God’s pardon.
We make the resurrection of Jesus useless if we cover up our faith and conceal our Christian life, and live as if the living one were dead. To know that he is alive for ever is the greatest joy for those who thought he was absent and dead. If we are certain of this, we will never be discouraged by the hostility of the environment or the apparent absence of the Lord. We know that we can count on the Spirit of the Risen Lord and we can face those who look down on us because of our faith.
And not only that: the witnesses of the Risen Jesus know that they are sent into a hostile world with the precise task of pardoning it. Jesus is risen to a new life without end. He has conquered sin and death, hatred and division. For this very reason, his witnesses cannot limit themselves to proclaiming him by word. They have to perform new deeds, and there is nothing more new, more life-giving, more divine that the offer of universal forgiveness.
The Christian who cannot forgive is not a living witness of the resurrection. It does not matter what evils the world may have caused him, because his capacity for forgiveness does not depend on the evil suffered but on the mandate of Jesus and the gift of his Spirit.
The pardon we succeed in giving and the peace we restore will be the best proof of the resurrection of Jesus. If there is one thing needed in our world, in our society and in our hearts, it is to live reconciled, inwardly at peace, healed in the very depth of our being. Only the Christian, certain as he is that Jesus is alive, can count on the power and the duty to forgive others. If we Christians today do not take seriously the mission given us by the Risen Jesus, we lose not only his Spirit but also the very reason for our being in the world.
If, wherever there exists a Christian, there is not a reason for peace among men, a step towards reconciliation, a renewed offer of forgiveness, then Jesus has risen in vain. Perhaps what happened to Thomas is happening to us. He could not believe that Jesus was alive because he had not seen him personally. We feel a certain sympathy for this apostle who wanted to touch with his hands in order to believe with his heart! His incredulity is familiar to us and we remember it because of the “reproof” he received from Jesus. And even though Thomas expressed a most beautiful and sincere formula of faith, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus very quickly told him that it is better to believe without seeing than to profess faith after being given proof.
To be witnesses of Jesus in the world, knowing that we have been sent to bring pardon, it is not important to have seen him, but to know that he is alive. Bringing peace and reconciliation is the practical and effective way of believing in the resurrection of Jesus. We will know that Jesus is alive without needing to touch his risen body, and we will feel in our hearts his life-giving breath, if we live by the pardon we have received and if we give life through deeds of reconciliation among men. The Christian who has used his hands to pardon has no need to touch the Risen Lord. He lives by his Spirit and for his mission. Nothing else is needed in order to believe. Happy are we if we know that Christ is alive. We live at peace in ourselves and we bring peace to the world!
III. Prayer: desire that what I have heard be done in me.
Lord, when you came among your disciples after your resurrection, you gave them peace and your Spirit, and you sent them to the world. From this encounter your Church was born and the world had someone to bring pardon. Come to us again, Lord, for the world still needs forgiveness and we need the joy of knowing that you are alive. Come to us again, Lord, for we are closed in our fears and in our silence. Fill us with your Spirit and send us again to bring pardon. Our world today has great need of pardon and peace, and the Church has need of your Spirit.
We continue, like Thomas, to want to touch to be able to trust you, to see you alive and to know that you are risen. Allow me to cling to you so that I may not fall under the weight of my doubts. Touch my heart and make me believe. Never allow me to stop living in the community of the apostles, even if I am imprisoned by my fears. In whatever situation I find myself, fill me with peace and with your Spirit. And if I am not there when you come, come back again and find me, my Lord and my God.