Second Sunday of Easter (B) (April 15 2012)
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Acts 4:32-35). This is one of the idealized presentations of the early Christian community in Jerusalem beloved of the author of this work, the Acts of the Apostles. It is presented as a model of what any later Christian community should be: united in heart and soul, witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, sharing their means with one another. This was in the early days of the Christian community, shortly after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The implications of faith in Christ had nor yet sunk in, as the Church spread out into the non-Jewish world, and away from the Law of Moses. This once tranquil Jerusalem community will later experience much soul searching and no small division. In this, too, it is an image of the Church of many ages.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 117). The Lord’s right hand has raised me up.
Second Reading (1 John 5:1-6).
The background situation to this reading is far removed from that of the quiet Jerusalem setting of today’s first reading. This first letter of John is addressed to a community deeply divided by reason of belief in the person of Christ as Son of God, of the reality of the incarnation. There were some teachers (whom the author of this letter calls “antichrists”) denying belief in Jesus as Son of God, and practically gone beyond membership of the community. In this letter, and in the present reading, the author is at pains to clarify points of doctrine, to stress the connection between belief in the God the Father of Jesus and the commandment deriving from this to love the neighbour, who like Jesus were children of the same Father. By the belief that Jesus is the Son of God (“the Christ” here means “Son of God”) one becomes a son or daughter of God, as the Gospel of John has said: “To all who believed him (that is Jesus Christ, the Word of God), who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”. God the Father, the Son of God (Jesus) and all sons and daughters of God, are one. To love God, who makes us his children, implies loving all God’s children.
This love is not an abstraction. Loving God is accepting God for what he is as Father, and living accordingly. It means keeping his commandments. In the present context the author is thinking of two commandments: to believe in God and in his Son and the commandment of love. Keeping these commandments could be difficult in a situation of faith divisions and the lack of communication and of friendliness attendant on such division. Confused believers needed, and need, to be given assurance. The assurance here given is that by the initial act of faith, the divine presence and power that goes with it, assure victory. It is the assurance of faith. “This is the victory that overcomes the world – our faith”. Christ had already said: “In the world you will face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). The “world” in question is all that is contrary to Jesus’ saving mission, from the false doctrines of the “antichrists”, to persecution, demonic powers and any others. Belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate to Christ within one’s conscience, brings this assurance.
Christ is said to have come “by water and blood”, symbols here with rich significance. He came and bore witness by his baptism with water, and the blood of his cross. Water and blood poured from his side on Calvary. These bear witness to his humanity. He comes with the waters of baptism. As had has promised (see John 16:4-15), there is another witness to his work, the Holy Spirit within the souls and consciences of believers to give the assurance that Christ’s message, and that of his Church, is the true one.
Gospel (John 20:19-31).
The first part of this reading tells of events that took place on Easter Sunday. The risen Saviour appears to his apostles, confirms the reality of his risen humanity by showing them his pierced hands and feet. He breathes the Holy Spirit on them, the Holy Spirit promised before his death and resurrection, and gives them (and the Church for all times) the power to forgive sin. The second half of the reading is on the Sunday following, the completion of the Easter week. It has the well-known episode of the “doubting Thomas”. Thomas is led to faith in Jesus, not merely as risen Lord, but as God. His profession of faith “My Lord and my God” brings the Gospel of John to a fitting conclusion. This gospel began with the words: “And the Word was God” (John 1:1). It ends with the same profession by Thomas. Jesus’ reply to Thomas is rich in meaning: “Jesus said to him: ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”
I once heard a playwright being asked what extra experience he would like to have had in life. His reply was: “I would like to have met Jesus”. One can only surmise what encounter, if any, a playwright, a politician or any other would have had with Jesus, and what, if any, Jesus’ reply would have been to their questions. Matters are different with regard to faith. Jesus is not a person of yesterday, or of another era. He is ever present as a person and influence.
Let’s go back for a moment to that scene in the upper room, with doors closed. Jesus accepts Thomas’s profession of faith. Thomas has seen the risen Saviour and believed. But, as if casting a glance forward to believers of all ages, in all places, into this twenty-first century, and this particular year, Jesus declares blessed all those who will believe in him down through all the ages. They will not have seen with their physical eyes, but will have done so through the eyes of faith. In his parting discourse at the Last Supper Jesus looked forward in prayer to the same course of faith history, and prays to the Father for all believers (John 17:20): “I ask not only on behalf of these (my disciples now present), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one”. For the earlier Church, and for later ages, Jesus is near in his empowering, consoling and inspiring presence. Peter is made to address early Christians suffering for their faith in Jesus as follows: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
The imitation of Christ is central to the New Testament and to Christianity. Imitation in this sense also implies a personal acquaintance with Christ. It s nicely put in a poem transmitted in Irish folk tradition, as part of an instruction to young people how to prepare for life: “Young person, at the beginning of your life, pay good attention to my teaching. Before you get too old come to a personal acquaintance (aithne) with Christ” – not just knowledge of Christ (eolas), but a personal acquaintance with (aithne) , through faith, an awareness that the presence and prayer which Jesus spoke about to Thomas. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have come to believe.