The Gospel for April 23rd, 2017: “Appearance to the Disciples,” “Thomas,” and “Conclusion”
Reflection: With Peace Comes a Mission
On this second Sunday of Easter, we read a gospel that is in three parts: “Appearance to the Disciples,” “Thomas,” and “Conclusion.” Since it tells of the return of Jesus to his apostles after the resurrection, it is a fitting reading for the second Sunday of Easter. Nevertheless, the three parts constitute three points of emphasis as we move forward in this Easter season sharing the glory of Christ’s victory. In the past I focused my attention on the second part, “Thomas,” which tells how Thomas doubted the reality of the risen Lord without seeing evidence firsthand. Jesus provides that evidence for Thomas, allowing him to put his fingers in the nail marks in Christ’s hands and the spear wound in the Lord’s side (27). Because I can relate to Thomas’ skepticism, Jesus’ blessing of “those who have not seen and have believed” has always resonated with me as an important lesson on the need for blind faith, as difficult as that is to accept (29).
Yet for today’s reflection I find myself drawn to the first part, “Appearance to the Disciples.” Why? In just the week that has passed since the liturgical crescendo of Holy Week, I have already fallen back into distraction. The concerns of daily life have caused me to fret and seek solace in worldly escapes such as junk food instead of in Jesus’ love. In short, I am afraid. So I notice the state Jesus finds his disciples in during His visit with them. John tells us, “the doors were locked…for fear of the Jews” (19). Jesus calms their fears and brings them peace in His presence. It is assuring to hear this.
However, what happens next gives me pause: “[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’” (21-23). With the peace of Jesus and the Holy Spirit comes a mission to forgive. This passage is often cited to support the authority of a priest to absolve sins with the sacrament of reconciliation, and I do not dispute that claim at all. It is a gift of love that I wish our non-Catholic brothers and sisters could know.
However, as a lay person, I think Jesus is speaking to me with a similar mission of forgiveness. While it is not a sacrament, it is no lesson important a mission. As lay persons, we go out into the world and encounter people from all walks of life personally, secularly, and politically. These encounters inevitably lead to conflicts, large and small. How do we respond to those conflicts? Do we retreat and insulate ourselves in fear, as we find the apostles doing in the upper room? Do we respond in kind with anger, manipulation, and aggression? Or do we will the good of those who offend us and seek forgiveness and conciliation? I think the answer is clear in this passage. As lay persons blessed with the peace of the Holy Spirit, we must accept the mission that comes with Christ’s love to carry His mercy into our relations with others, both Christian and non-Christian. True, ours is not to absolve the sins of others as clergy do, but we are instrumental in spreading the gospel by loving our neighbors and our enemies as only Christ can. It is our vocation as spouses, parents, and workers to do so.
When I am struggling with selfishness and pride (as I do frequently), the principle from Church Father Origen, “Ubi divisio, ibi peccatum” or “Where there is division, there is sin,” sometimes pops into my head. I think it is a graceful reminder that we all share responsibility in healing the rifts that divide us. The body of Christ’s church will not be made whole by a unity that is only doctrinally or politically enforced, but rather in the simpler gathering of all His magnificent creation together in His unselfish love. Forgiveness and mercy are essential to that process and fundamental gifts for the salvation of humankind. If we seek forgiveness–no matter how long it may take—we are moving toward salvation.