23 April 2017
Acts of Apostles 2.42-47
1 Peter 1.3-9
Some time ago I was speaking to a young man in his late 20’s. He wanted to make a decision. He had been going with his girlfriend for the previous two years and he felt the time had come for him to decide whether to marry her or not. He listed many good qualities she had but he still wasn’t sure. He said also ‘when I see so many marriages nowadays ending up with couples separating how can I be certain the same won’t happen to us if we marry’. The simple answer is, of course, he can’t be certain. What would you think of this young man if before marrying he wanted every guarantee and assurance that he was not going to make a mistake in marrying his girlfriend? Many would regard him as a very calculating young man who had not much of a heart to give.
Maybe things have not changed much since the first Easter, and so, like Thomas, sometimes called ‘Doubting Thomas’, we may continue to ask for more than is needed in order to believe. Maybe we too would like to see and touch Jesus and have everything proved beyond doubt. We could not then be said to believe as there would be nothing left to believe in. Neither faith nor love call for absolute certainty.
Perhaps too we may think that having doubts of faith is something to be ashamed of. In fact if we have doubts and still believe in spite of them are we not making a great act of faith in the other? So like the young man doubting whether to marry or not, we too may have our doubts but basically we are saying to God: “I believe in you”. Even on the human level is not this a great gift, a great compliment to pay to another? Did you ever say to another ‘I believe in you’ as hopefully the young man decided to say to his girlfriend, ‘I believe enough in you to want you to be my wife. I believe we can have a very good future together and work through whatever difficulties may arise. Yes, I love you because I believe in you’. Did anyone ever say to you ‘I really believe in you’? How did you feel as a result?
In the gospel today we have many doubters, not just Thomas. We have the disciples locked into the Upper Room because of fear. They were afraid that what happened to Jesus would happen to them. They have lost all faith in ever seeing Jesus again. After all, he died on the cross and was buried. And then the unthinkable happens. Jesus appears in their midst. His opening words are ‘Peace be with you’ and he repeats it again. There is no condemnation and we are told the disciples are filled with joy when they saw the Lord.
But Thomas was not there and he refuses to believe them when they tell him about the appearance of the Risen Jesus. Eight days later Jesus appears again and this time Thomas is there. Again the opening words of Jesus are: ‘Peace be with you’. And in his great love Jesus came to the doubting Thomas and allowed him to touch his hands and side. Then Jesus says ‘You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and believe’.
Hopefully we are among those whom the Lord addresses. John is saying very clearly that the faith of the Church in the Risen Jesus does not depend on the sort of proof Thomas demanded. The reason for writing the gospel is then given. All the signs and miracles of Jesus are recorded so that people may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and believing they may have life in his name. The purpose of believing in Jesus is to have the fulness of life.
When Jesus appears to the disciples in today’s gospel he showed them his hands and feet meaning he went back to his Father in his woundedness. This is to say that we too can have confidence in going back to our Heavenly Father in our woundedness. Unlike Jesus whose wounds were physical, ours are our sins. And the Good News is that our wounds are no obstacle to our being with God. In fact he wishes we go to him and allow him to embrace us, wounds and all, as did the father of the Prodigal Son.
We are also told in today’s gospel that Jesus breathed on the disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit. We too are sent by Jesus and so need this Holy Spirit to witness to Jesus especially his forgiveness.
A very important aspect of today’s gospel is that the mission to proclaim the forgiveness of sins is entrusted to the community as a whole and not only to certain leaders. John describes the group simply as the gathering of the ‘disciples’.
It is above all by forgiving others that the gospel or Good News looks to the future, opening up the possibility of a new existence. We can always begin anew with God after failures. The joyful realisation that one has been accepted by God even after betrayal and sin is a central part of the Easter experience and brings with it an obligation to become God’s instrument in announcing his forgiveness to all.
“Lord Jesus we believe you are risen from the dead. Praise you for always being faithful, always ready to forgive and especially for accepting us totally in our woundedness. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA