Second Sunday Of Easter
The first reading for this Sunday is another excerpt from Acts of Apostles. Luke composed a glowing report of the earliest Christian Community in Jerusalem. “All believers were of one heart and mind, no one claimed anything as his or her own, but had everything in common.” A kind of Christian commune! “No needy person among them!” Then Luke adds what would be dear to the heart of every bishop, pastor, administrator, “Those who own property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and place them at the feet of the apostles for distribution according to need.” Considering the limitations of human nature, was the situation really that beautiful? It should give us pause about this report when we recall that Luke composed his report on that early community fifty years later.
Commentators have long thought, and with good reason, that Luke sometimes looks through colored glasses. Why? From the stories of human foibles that soon follow this report in the Book of Acts. In the next chapter, a Christian couple, Ananias and Sapphire, made a pledge that they would bring “to the feet of the apostles” the proceeds of a sale of a property. They reneged on their pledge and kept back some of the money. Both lied to St. Peter, though one could accuse Peter of trapping them into a lie. Both died on the spot. Would this story be good material in the annual diocesan CPC appeal? In the chapter after this sordid affair, racial prejudice raised its ugly head. In the daily distribution of food to the Order of Widows, the Greek-speaking widows complained that they were being neglected. The apostles took it to prayer. The result: the institution of the first seven deacons, all with Greek names, to oversee the distribution of daily alms, “to each according to need,” or as Paul would counsel if asked, “There must be no distinction between Jew and Greek.”
The Responsorial Psalm (118) emphasizes the mercy of God “which endures forever.” The Psalmist sings (raps) about a stone rejected by builders, which nevertheless became the corner-stone of a building. In the original context, this was a reference to a king’s victory or return to power, perhaps King David regaining power after the defeat of his son Absalom’s rebellion. As happens often in God’s providence, that was not the ultimate meaning. Christian interpretation understood this passage in reference to Jesus’ rejection by the leaders of his people, and his restoration as foundation or cornerstone of a new building – the Church. The Psalmist chants that this was the Lord’s work, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice.”
The second reading is an excerpt from the First Letter of John. The New Testament contains five books or documents from what is called the Johannine Community. They are the Gospel of John, the three Letters of John, and the Book of Revelation. From these documents, we can understand what troubled this Christian Community. They seemed less out of control than Paul’s Corinthians, but they also had major problems. There was a denial that Jesus is the Messiah and that he is begotten of the Father, that he is Son of God. That’s major. The denial of being begotten by the Father is a preview of the Arian heresy of the fourth century, which denied the divinity/equality of Jesus (consubstantiality) with the Father. Others in this community denied Jesus’ humanity, claiming that what seemed his humanity was merely an appearance, a show. The author insists, “Jesus Christ came (into the world) through water and blood,” the usual elements that accompany the birth of a human being.
The gospel of this Sunday is Jesus’ first appearance to his frightened disciples secluded behind locked doors. If Jesus was executed as a rebel king, then his disciples were also under suspicion, perhaps not so much by Roman authorities in the Holy Land as by the high priestly families who were intent on wiping out this troublemaker and his adherents. Jesus assuages their fear with his “Shalom alachem!” Not just once, but twice, “Peace be with you!” He displayed the wounds of the crucifixion as proof of his humanity, the humanity of the same body that had been with them during their training. We see here in John a very different kind of commissioning than the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel. Another difference: we are accustomed to think of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church on Pentecost – fifty days after the resurrection, ten days after the Ascension. But that is Luke’s theology, not the theology of John. In John’s theology, the disciples receive Holy Spirit and their authority as ambassadors of the Father and Jesus on the day of the resurrection and the ascension and Jesus’ return – all in one day.
He breathed on them the Breath (the Spirit) of God, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” To what purpose?
Forgiveness of sin and the ability to judge whether or not to delay forgiveness. “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven. Whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Why retained?
Paul could answer the question by what he did at Corinth. He excommunicated a man for public scandal, “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” The rest of today’s gospel is the famous incident of Thomas the Doubter. Thomas had been absent at the first appearance of Jesus. Jesus returns “eight days later.” This influenced the choice of this reading for the Octave (from Latin octo meaning “eight”) of the resurrection. Thomas refused to believe those who had seen the risen Jesus. Jesus invites him to see and feel the wounds. A sudden change of attitude! Thomas believes and is given the opportunity to confirm what John revealed throughout his gospel when he proclaims Jesus “My Lord and my God!” We who believe without seeing join him with a blessing from Jesus himself, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed!”