Second Sunday of Easter April 15, 2012

Acts 4, 32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31

The Resurrection of Jesus is the gift of the Father to us as he gives his Son once again to humanity with greater love. This risen Jesus will remain with us forever.  For the disciples the resurrection was totally a new experience.  During his life time Jesus had constantly reminded them about his rising from the dead.  He had told them of his suffering and death and that he would rise again on the third day.  For them this was a mystery and they were unable to understand the concept of resurrection. It was not something the disciples could have anticipated since there has been nothing like it in human history but now they were confronted with a novel experience of their master. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles presents a picture of the early Christian community. Such was their way of life that they were looked up by everyone.  In the second reading John tells us of the new life in Christ. We are God’s children whom he loves intimately. The gospel narrative of today tells us how the disciples moved from fear to joy, seclusion to mission, absence to presence, disbelief to faith and to the existence of a new life. They were happy to see him once again in their company. During this encounter Jesus gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit as he breathed on them and commissioned them to carry on his work on earth. He gave them his peace and the special power to forgive sins. The forgiveness that Jesus spoke of is not just the juridical wiping away of sins but a deep reconciliation of people with God and with each other.
Today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that when a community lives by the standards of the gospel, there is a peace and harmony that can be had only through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles is a book which gives a brief history of the infant Christian Church.  Today’s passage describes the fervor of the first Jerusalem Christians who were so filled with the love of God and neighbor that everyone shared with his fellow Christians all that he had. The Christian community in Jerusalem had all things in common. It was an ideal Christian family which received admiration from all. They cared for the needy persons in the community.  There was a complete sharing among them of their earthly possessions. Once they became members of the Church, they wholeheartedly devoted themselves to learn and practice the teachings of the apostles which were the teachings of Jesus.  Secondly, they worshipped in fellowship. They demonstrated their faith in Jesus by gathering together as believers during which time they prayed, sang hymns, praised God and witnessed to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Thirdly, they participated in the breaking of bread or the Holy Eucharist done in memory of Jesus. The Eucharist was the central act of the community.  Finally, they devoted themselves to prayers. There can be no Christian life without prayer as an essential element of each day.
The Second Reading from the First Letter of John teaches us that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. Faith in Jesus divine and human is our entrance into eternal life. As new creations, we became children of God. This qualifies us to inherit the eternal Kingdom of God if we persevere in our living faith through the sacramental life. It leads us to love God as we are his children and this helps us to love others, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Through faith in Jesus and the Sacrament of Baptism, we were born again as new persons who belong to God in Christ. We love our brothers and sisters in Christ only by loving God and by our obedience to his Commandments. The Commandments of God are not hard to obey for those who are born again. For their living faith in Christ testifies to their victory, that they have conquered the world. Their charitable actions and their testifying as to the Word of God to others is a sure sign that while they are in the world, they are not of this world. Their minds are set on what is spiritual in the hope of things to come.  Inspired by the Spirit’s testimony, we are able to lead others to faith in Christ.  John further tells us that the baptism of Jesus was not only a baptism by water, but also by blood. He gave His life for us as the sacrificial Lamb of God.  His life was a sacrifice for each one of us, to make us children of God.
Today’s gospel tells us of the first action of Jesus after his resurrection as he appears to his disciples. The setting is very important as the entire atmosphere is one of fear. It was Easter Sunday, two days after the death of Jesus. The disciples were inside the house, with the doors firmly locked, because they were terrified that, as companions of Jesus, they too would be liable to arrest and punishment. The words of assurance that had been given to them earlier were all forgotten. Their fear was suddenly shattered by the unexpected appearance of Jesus in their midst. The very fact that he could be present in spite of the locked doors indicated that he was not the same as before, that he was present in a new way. He calmed their fear with the immediate gift of peace. “Peace with you!” was his first greeting. It was the normal Jewish greeting of “Shalom”. But, coming from Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to this group of frightened people, it had special meaning. And, in the Greek, there is no verb so it can be taken either as a wish or a statement of fact indicating that where Jesus is truly present to us, there is peace. To establish continuity between the earthly Jesus and the risen Lord, he showed them his hands and his side.  He was not just a disembodied ghost but the same Jesus who died on the cross – and yet there were the differences. The disciples’ fear was gradually transformed into an unspeakable joy at the return of their Master.
The second action of Jesus was the commissioning of the disciples through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus continued to speak to them and teach them as he did at the last supper. Repeating his greeting of peace, he proceeded to give them their mission. He commissioned the disciples to continue the same work in the world that Jesus had been doing. There was no critical word of any sort regarding their failure to stand by him during his final moments.  Jesus empowered the disciples to carry on his mission by breathing on them the Holy Spirit. In a sense this is the new creation, similar to that what God did at the first creation.  The breath of life, reminiscent of God breathing on the dust of the earth and creating human life in the first man or as Prophet Ezekiel says in the parable of the valley of dry bones.  With this new creation he was sending them out just as the Father had sent him on a mission. For them this mission was an essential part of their discipleship.  Now on they are called upon to live like Jesus and draw others to share their personal experience of knowing and loving Jesus and being loved by him.  An aspect of the gift of the Holy Spirit was the power of the disciples to forgive sins. In John, sin refers primarily to blindness to the revelations of God in Jesus. The disciples were to continue the struggles of Jesus to overcome this blindness by showing the world the true light of salvation. He told them:  “For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”  Their mission was to be his messengers to forgive and reconcile and fulfill the task of the Kingdom of God.
The final event in this passage centers on the encounter of Thomas with the Lord.  This is in reality a story of faith. When Jesus appeared to the disciples for the first time on the Easter Sunday evening, only ten disciples were present. One of the disciples, Thomas, was not present among them on this occasion.  The reason of his absence is not important.  What is important is his encounter with the Risen Jesus.  When they narrated the appearance of Jesus he refused to believe that the Lord was raised from the dead and had visited them.  He wanted to see with his own eyes some irrefutable proof of his presence.   Thomas personally wanted to encounter Jesus in order to believe in his resurrection. For his refusal to believe Thomas is often accused as a doubter.  It is right that we ask the question at this juncture, whether Thomas was really a doubtful person or whether the other disciples were the persons who lacked faith.  At the outset it seems as if Thomas was really a man of true faith.  When they told him that Jesus had risen and had appeared to them he was surprised that they could still remain in hiding. He felt if they had really seen Jesus they would have been really shouting at the top of the voice telling the world that Jesus is living. Since they are hiding and were still scared of the Jews, he could not believe he had risen from the dead. He was a courageous person and at the death of Lazarus, had openly said let us go with Jesus and die with him.  In reality he was the man of faith. In his life he did just that. He went too far away India and died for his faith.
Jesus came to them a week later also on a Sunday, and as he appeared before them once again wished them Peace. Then he called Thomas to him and as a proof of his resurrection asked him to put his finger in his wounds and hand into his side.  The Scriptures do not tell us if Thomas ever needed to touch Jesus or not. What it tells us is that the eyes of Thomas were opened in true joy and he made the expression of faith: “My Lord and my God.” The Resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate evidence that Thomas needed to prove to him that the friendship he had enjoyed with Jesus for the past three years was indeed a friendship with God incarnated in human form.  At that moment, Thomas must have been overcome with awe and wonder. At the end of this event, Jesus appreciated Thomas for his faith in him once he had encountered him. But he said something more about his would be followers who would believe in him without visually encountering him.  But it is through the preaching of the Word of God itself that the question of faith or disbelief is finalized.  Faith in fact is to encounter God with the inner spiritual eye and to trust in him. And indeed from now on, these disciples too will only know Jesus by faith.  But they will never lose the conviction that Jesus lives, that he is with them in all they do, that he is the source of their peace and joy through all their trials and tribulations. Faith comes not from touching but by Jesus offering himself to the believer.
We find three themes inter-linked in today’s gospel: Spirit to Mission, Seeing to Believing and Not Seeing to Believing. First, as he joins them Jesus gives them Peace, which is his own peace. Immediately afterwards he gives them the gift of the Spirit, coming from the Father to teach them everything, and remind them of the teachings of Jesus.  Then breathing on them he gives them the mission to forgive and reconcile and build the church. Second we have Thomas who saw and he believed. Jesus offers Thomas his personal presence to see but Thomas confesses that Jesus is his and his God, apparently without placing his hands into Jesus’ side. His faith is complete and total. The final theme applies to us, those hundreds of thousands who have not seen Jesus and yet have believed in him.  This has been our faith for we have not visibly seen the Lord and yet we have believed in him.  The concluding words of John tell us more about the faith. Jesus did many others signs in the presence of His disciples, those not being recorded in the Holy Bible. What has been written is sufficient for us to believe that Jesus came on earth as the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through our believing we may have life in His Name. For it is in the Name of Jesus that we experience our new birth into a living hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.
Today on the Second Sunday of the Easter the church celebrates the Divine Mercy Sunday. It was instituted by Blessed Pope John Paul II at the canonization of St. Maria Faustina on April 30, 2000, and then officially decreed by the Vatican.  Divine Mercy Sunday can be seen as the convergence of all the mysteries and graces of Holy Week and Easter Week. The purpose of the feast is to lead the faithful through their faith, hope and love to share more deeply in the whole mystery of Christ as it unfolds throughout the year. The feast focuses the light of the Risen Christ into a radiant beam of merciful love and grace for the whole world. In his revelations to St. Faustina Jesus expressed His desire to celebrate this special feast. He says that the Feast of Mercy emerged from his very depths of tenderness and mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of his Mercy.  Jesus says that the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened and let no soul fear to draw near to him.  Even though his sins are as scarlet they would be forgiven because of the Mercy that emerges from the very depths of his tenderness. This Feast is a summation of the event of his mercy active in our lives now.
There was a boy in India who was sent by his parents to a boarding school. Before being sent away this boy was the brightest student in his class. He was at the top in every competition. He was a champion.  But the boy changed after leaving home and attending the boarding school. His grades started dropping. He hated being in a group. He was lonely all the time and often he felt like committing suicide. All this happened because he felt worthless and that no one loved him. His parents started worrying about the boy and no one knew what was wrong with him. So his dad decided to meet him and talk with him. They sat on the bank of the lake near the school. The father started asking him casual questions about his classes, teachers and sports. After some time his dad said, ‘Do you know son, why I am here today?”  The boy answered back, “to check my grades?” “No, no” his dad replied, “I am here to tell you that you are the most important person for me. I want to see you happy. I don’t care about grades. I care about you. I care about your happiness. YOU ARE MY LIFE.”  These words caused the boy’s eyes to fill with tears. He hugged his dad. They didn’t say anything to each other for a long time. Now the boy had everything he wanted. He knew there was someone on this earth who cared for him deeply. He meant the world to someone. After this the young man always at the top of his class and no one ever saw him sad. Thanks a lot dad. YOU ARE MY LIFE.
Fr.Eugene Lobo S.J.
Fatima Retreat House
Fr. Muller’s Road Jeppu
Mangalore 575002 India
00919845030380, 08242419452

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