8 April 2018
1 John 5:1-6
The story is told that the devil wanted to get into heaven so he disguised himself as Jesus. At the gate of heaven he met St.Peter who immediately recognised the devil in his disguise. Later when he was speaking to the Risen Jesus who was curious to know how Peter had seen through the devil’s disguise, St. Peter replied: ‘Oh it was quite easy Lord – he had no wounds in his hands like you have.’
In the gospel today the Risen Jesus appears to the fearful disciples in the room where they were. After his first greeting of peace he shows them his wounded hands and side. It means that Jesus went back to his Father in his woundedness. This is very consoling for you and me because it means we too can go to God with our wounds – the wounds of our sins, ours fears, our difficulties in accepting others and in forgiving them if necessary, our failures to respond to God etc. God wants us to approach him just as we are, not as we think we should be but as we are right now, warts and all. I hope you all have had the experience of being fully accepted by someone who knows you fully including your failings and negative qualities. Then it will be easier to understand that this is even more true of the way God accepts us. We are always sure of a total welcome and acceptance.
Sometimes people tell me they stop going to church or to communion at Mass because they are unworthy. Who is ever worthy to approach God were it not for God inviting us to go to him? So today the gospel is telling us to relax in the reality of God’s love and go to him as we are. It is also, of course, a call to accept others in their woundedness. When Thomas doubted and the compassionate Jesus came to assure him that he was risen, he didn’t first give him a lecture on his stubborn attitude but simply asked him to put his finger into the wounds in his hands and his hand into the wound in his side. Maybe here, Jesus is telling us that faith is not a matter of the mind, of proofs, but a knowing with the heart. Is it not a surrender to another, to God; rather like 2 people falling in love?
Maybe that is the best definition of faith: falling in love with God –not simply a certain conviction or a sure possession of certain truths. St. John of the Cross says that conversion i.e. a real faith takes place only when we fall in love with God. He says that we cannot be really converted by fear. God does not frighten people into keeping laws out of fear. That is why 3 times in the gospel today when the Risen Jesus appears to the frightened disciples, his first words are ‘Peace be with you’.
In appearing to them the Risen Lord bursts in and gives them the necessary strength for their mission. JESUS OPENS THE DOORS WHICH FEAR HAD CLOSED. He opens up for them and for us tremendous new possibilities for living. He brings them peace but that does not mean rest. On the contrary, peace is a very necessary quality to go out and proclaim the gospel. He breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit who is absolutely necessary for their work. This symbol of breathing recalls God breathing life into Adam and Eve in the beginning of the bible.
The risen Lord in appearing to the fearful disciples is a sign of a caring loving God. Jesus does not leave anyone indifferent, he transforms our lives in every aspect if we open ourselves up to his creating Spirit. The transformation will lead to service of others and sharing what we have, just like the primitive community in the account of the first reading today, the Acts of the Apostles. The second reading tells us that true faith, falling in love with God, transforms us into conquerors of evil and even death because we believe in the Risen Jesus. The deeper our relationship with God, the more peaceful and more joyful we will be here on earth so that in a very real sense we have already begun eternal life. That is why a pagan philosopher in the first century of Christianity wrote that Christians lived as if they were already raised from the dead. All afflictions, sufferings and even death could not rob them of the joy Jesus brought them.
Personally I believe this to be really true. If our faith, our relationship with Jesus doesn’t bring us a deep faith and joy, not denying life’s struggles and difficulties, then I wonder if we have a correct understanding of Christianity. It is not just about keeping laws to please God or get into heaven. It is love-affair with God who passionately desires an intimate friendship with us. And if this is our experience, then we will keep the laws and commandments of God not out of fear or to gain his love but as a loving response and as an act of gratitude to God for all he has done and is still doing for us.
“Risen Jesus, you came to give us life and give it in its fullness. Take away from our hearts whatever fears prevent us from being as fully human as you were. Breathe your powerful Holy Spirit into our hearts to enable us to have the deep friendship with you that you desire. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein SMA