Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Gospel Reflection: Easter 2

Gospel for Easter 2, Year B John 20:19-31 (CEB)
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.” Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
There is absolutely no shame or deficiency in asking questions and searching for the way to peace of heart and mind and spirit. In our reading, Jesus stays true as the one who offers the gift of peace to his disciples. Recall his promise of peace in the present hour, in John 14: 27: "My peace I give to you." In praying the Fourteen Stations of Light, there are three Stations in this reading: Jesus' appearing before the disciples, the disciples receiving the power to forgive sin, and Jesus' strengthening the faith of Thomas. It encourages us to explore the whole passage, not just Thomas' story.
The Holy Spirit that Jesus breathes out on his disciples is the life-breath of God. It is also the power of forgiveness, given freely to, and without it, following Jesus is impossible. We move from "I should forgive," to "I can forgive." The power to forgive is here for us, given by Jesus Christ- if only we see it and use it. Without forgiveness, apostleship has nothing to offer except fear and shame. Don't pin failure to forgive on God or any church authority. The following quote from Holy Longing can serve as a powerful footnote to the power of forgiveness in the Body of Christ:
If a child or a brother or a sister or a loved one of yours strays from the church in terms of faith practice and morality, as long as you continue to love that person, and hold him or her in union and forgiveness, he or she is touching the hem of the garment, is held to the Body of Christ, and is forgiven by God, irrespective of his or her official external relationship to the church and Christian morality. Your touch is Christ’s touch. When you love someone, unless that someone actively rejects your love and forgiveness, she or he is sustained in salvation. And this is true even beyond death. If someone close to you dies in a state which, externally at least, has her or him at odds ecclesially and morally with the visible church, your love and forgiveness will continue to bind that person to the Body of Christ and continue to forgive that individual, even after death.
There are few better checks of my spiritual life than honestly exploring where I am in the journey to forgive those who have harmed me, even without knowing their intentions. My forgiveness is married to my forgiveness of others. I am also given the power to know my wrongs and pray God's love, healing and blessing over those whom I have harmed, to explore making amends for the benefit of a different future.

Thomas' absence from Jesus first appearance to the disciples prompts him to question the disciples' witness. Who appeared, was it was the Christ who suffered and died? The most important marks of the risen Lord are not his hair style, beard length, but rather, his suffering and death, the wounds of execution and the pierced side.  As a result of seeing and touching these marks of Christ, Thomas recognizes Jesus for who he is and thus becomes the first one to worship Jesus. He kneels down, an act of worship, and proclaims the faith of the earliest church, "My Lord and my God."

Jesus does not come down in judgement on Thomas' lack of lack of faith or believing. The CEV offers this wording of John 20:29-31: "Jesus said, “Thomas, do you have faith because you have seen me? The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!” Jesus worked many other miracles[a] for his disciples, and not all of them are written in this book. But these are written so that you will put your faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. If you have faith in[b] him, you will have true life." Far from guilting or shaming of Thomas, these words may be seen as a direct encouragement to the Christians hearing John's Gospel for the first time. In their continuing faith journey, these believers hear words of blessing, not condemnation. They are words of the risen Christ. And, we are included in that church.

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