Second Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 4:32-35; Response: Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Second Reading: 1 John 5:1-6; Gospel: John 20:19-31
Luke describes the early Christian community in Jerusalem soon after Pentecost. “The community of believers were of one mind.” Most unusual for a group of humans! Even more unusual except in the controlled environment of vowed religious is the following remark, “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” The apostles were still in Jerusalem before their mission to the world. They were proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus and they were popular, “Great favor was accorded to them all.” The popularity was that of the whole Christian community among the people, but not among the temple hierarchy. In the previous chapter, the apostles were arrested and stood trial before the Sanhedrin. This body of seventy men was the governing body of the Jews in religious and some civic matters by permission of Roman occupation forces. Cause of their arrest — the public cure of a lame man “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” The high priestly clans who controlled the decisions of the Sanhedrin did not want to hear about a resurrected Jesus back at work. They were Sadducees — and Sadducees denied any resurrection of the dead. Besides that, they were responsible for the judicial murder of Jesus. The apostles got off with a warning, this time, not to teach again in the name of Jesus. Peter’s reply: “Better to listen to God than to you.”
Luke continues his description. “There was no needy person among them, because those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale and lay them at the feet of the apostles. They were distributed to each according to need.” Consider how happy a bishop or pastor would be if this system would come alive again. Such remarks by Luke lead to a conclusion that his description of this community was more ideal than real. Here is the evidence. A Christian couple, Ananias and Sapphira agreed to sell some property, but secretly conspired to keep some of the money. They had apparently pledged to donate all the money, a CPC pledge. Worse yet, they lied about it to Peter. He was aware of their deception. He questioned them and they lied. At his command first both dropped dead at his feet. In our time Peter could have been charged with entrapment and manslaughter or worse, but that would spoil the story. Imagine the power the use of this story could have for a successful Catholic Parishes Campaign.
Psalm 118 responds with praise of God’s goodness and mercy. The people respond, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love is everlasting.” The most noteworthy verse of the Psalm: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This originally referred to King David regaining power after a failed coup attempt against him by his son Absalom. Christian interpretation gave these words new life by applying them to Jesus being rejected by his own religious leaders (“the builders”). Yet he became the cornerstone of a new building — the Church. With this interpretation in view, we can join the Psalmist in joyful exaltation, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it!”
The second reading is from the 1st Letter of John. There is much about love in this letter. There are indications that this troubled Christian community had difficulty with this virtue. To paraphrase a line from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” “He protesteth too much.” The author emphasized two points. Anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ begotten by God, and claims to love the Father, must also love the Son. How does one prove love of both Father and Son? Doing what God commanded us — to love one another. They had problems with that.
The setting of the gospel is on Sunday evening — the same day on which Jesus rose from the dead. During the day Jesus had appeared to Mary of Magdala. He commissioned her to announce his ascension (glorification) to his disciples. She did. In the meantime, Jesus ascended to his Father and returned — all on the same day, though not emptyhanded. He brought a gift from the Father — the Holy Spirit. No longer subject to the laws of physics, he suddenly stood among the disciples where they were hiding out of fear of arrest from the same temple gang responsible for the arrest and murder of Jesus. He soothes their fears with a double Shalom. He breathes upon them the Divine Breath — the Holy Spirit. This part of the reading is also the gospel for Pentecost and must await comment until then. The second part narrates the story of Thomas and how he acquired the embarrassing name, the Doubter. He was absent during Jesus’ first Sunday appearance. Jesus returns the following Sunday. He challenges Thomas, who refused to believe his colleagues that Jesus was alive. He invited him to touch the scars of the wounds, “and do not be unbelieving but believing.” Thomas instantly yields and proclaims of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Faith, which is trust in the truth of a proclamation, overwhelmed his doubts.
The third part of this gospel is also its closing statement, the author signing off before the addition of what we call chapter 21. John always refers to Jesus’ miracles as signs. Within chapters 2-11 he included seven signs, from the changing of water into wine to the resurrection of his friend Lazarus. Referring to these signs, John writes, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples not written in this book.” This statement is a foundation of the acceptance of oral tradition as a valid conveyer of God’s revelation. The author adds the reason for including those seven signs. “These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” It is true that faith is an unmerited gift (grace) of God. Miracles, however, especially the signs revealed in the Gospel of John, move us to acceptance of God’s free gift of faith. Jesus blesses his believers in today’s gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed.”