APRIL 8th, 2018: SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
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 favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
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 nailmarks
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.
Looking back at my pre-scriptural religious education, it seems the only “vision” instilled in me was my being in heaven one day. If I daydreamed about anything having to do with this earth it probably revolved around all my friends and family converting to Catholicism so we could spend eternity together. I certainly didn’t share the vision of the gospel Jesus.
That’s why many of the Easter season Acts readings are so important. Scholars agree the glimpses of the early Jerusalem Christian community which Luke provides most probably aren’t accurate historical photographs of that church, a community in which “there was no needy person among them.” Luke seems simply to be depicting an ideal community, one in which Christians are living as Jesus expects them to live. He’s sharing Jesus’ vision with his readers, encouraging them to spend their lives trying to make that vision a reality. Unlike my early religious education, it had little to do with getting into heaven. It was much more about creating a little bit of heaven here on earth.
In this passage, the death entailed in creating that heaven revolves around giving up personal ownership of property. It’s clear from the following Ananias and Sapphira narrative that no one was obligated to take such a drastic step in order to become a Christian. Yet, if we’re other Christs, the possibility of such an action should always be in the back of our minds.
Of course, the reason for such an extraordinary move should always be in the front of our minds: love. The unknown author of I John clearly understands its positioning. Love is always central for all Jesus’ followers. “We know that we love the children of God,” he writes, “when we love God and obey his commandments.” Our faith can only “conquer the world” by falling back on the power of love.
Yet for most of us, even more drastic than giving up property is giving up revenge; something John’s Jesus expects all of us to do all of the time. That’s one of the reasons he gives us his Spirit, to help us forgive others.
We Catholics have been so accustomed to hearing Jesus’ words about “forgiving” and “retaining” as the proof text for the church’s power to “hear confessions,” that we forget he never wanted anyone to retain someone’s sins. He simply seems to be pointing out the consequences of such behavior. In case we haven’t noticed, when we forgive a person, that person’s sins are actually forgiven. When we go against his teachings and retain a person’s sins, those sins remain part of who that person is. We then not only have to worry about our sins, we also have to worry about his or her sins. Unforgiven, they become part of our sinfulness.
I frequently remind my students that Scripture provides us with two separate occasions for the Spirit’s arrival: Pentecost morning in Acts and Easter Sunday night in John. I also point out that the Acts narrative is accompanied by several “disturbing” phenomena: noise, wind and fire, reminding us that the Spirit always disturbs our otherwise tranquil life. The same is true of John’s narrative. Fulfilling Jesus’ vision of a forgiving community can be just as disturbing as noise, wind and fire. It’s at right angles to many of our personalities.
No wonder Thomas wants to see and touch the risen Jesus’ wounds as proof he/she actually exists. It’s really Jesus only if this “new creation” can show the scars resulting from living out his vision.
I trust one day that same Jesus will check on our scars when we finally encounter him at the pearly gates. If we haven’t shared his wounds, I presume neither did we share his vision.