That’s how today’s gospel (In 20: 19-31) might be titled. Jesus gives to his disciples, and to all of us, the first and choicest fruits of his passion, death and resurrection.
First, he offers peace. Not once, not twice, but three times he greets his disciples with “Peace be with you!” The disciples were hiding in a locked room – “for fear of the Jews, ” says the gospel. Very likely, they were afraid of Jesus too, expecting to get a good scolding from him, like: “Where were you when I needed you most? Why were you such cowards? Peter, why did you deny me?” But they heard nothing of the sort from Jesus. Not a word of recrimination. Only a greeting of peace the first fruits of the resurrection; the peace which we need so very badly, even today-first and foremost in Jesus’ own country.
Second, Jesus conveys his own mission to his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. ” It is substitution time. Like a runner handing the baton on to the next runner in a relay race track competition, so Jesus passes on to his disciples the mission he had received from the Father; as if he were saying: My task is finished; now it is your turn; carry on. The above text is very important from the viewpoint of ecclesiology. It helps us understand what the church is and what we, the members of the Church, are. We are extensions of Christ. He uses our hands, our feet, our tongue, our heart. He continues to fulfill his mission through us.
Third, Jesus confers the Holy Spirit upon his disciples to help them carry out their mission: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit ‘.” We know from another New Testament source that the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles on Pentecost
day. For John, however, whose gospel is not concerned with chronology but rather with theology, the ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit happened on Easter Sunday. For him, the Holy Spirit too is the first fruits of the resurrection. He transformed the apostles from frightened individuals into fearless witnesses. He can also transform us, if we allow him, from routine-driven churchgoers into dynamic and committed members of the Christian community.
Fourth, Jesus bestows on his disciples the power to impart forgiveness: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them … ” What a marvelous gift! Jesus knew that we would need it very badly. The Church is not an assembly of angels, as today’s first reading from Acts might lead us to believe, but a community of sinners in need of forgiveness. The risen Lord made that forgiveness available to us in the Church: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven. ” Those who prefer to confess their sins directly to God (some people apparently have a direct line to heaven) rather than to priests or bishops who are fellow-sinners, should remember that Jesus gave the power to forgive, not to angels but to this bunch of “coward” disciples including Peter who had denied him a couple of days earlier.
Lastly, the stubborn refusal of Thomas to believe in the resurrection of Jesus–unless he saw and touched his hands and his side, prompted Jesus to explain to Thomas, and to us, that after the resurrection, our relationship with him will no longer be based on his physical presence but on faith: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have
believed. ” We are blessed if and when we believe that Christ is present in the Scriptures, in the Holy Eucharist, and in our brothers and sisters-even though we do not see him. Thank you, Doubting Thomas! Your hesitancy to believe the testimony of your peers elicited a most beautiful and important statement from the risen Lord!
as published April 15, 2012, Parish Bulletin