Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 19:20-31
The first reading continues a series of first readings from Acts of Apostles. The context is Simon Peter’s first post-Pentecost proclamation (sermon, homily). The result of this sermon, according to Luke, was the baptism of “three thousand souls.” The RCIA was not yet in place, so the program seems considerably shorter. As our reading begins, we are told that these new converts “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and of prayers.” The logistics of how all this came together are not given, but one may ask questions. If indeed everything went as quickly as Luke seems to say, that is, all on the day of Pentecost, how did the new converts already know the apostles’ teachings? How did they know “the breaking of the bread,” an early name for the Eucharist? What is meant by fellowship, if the converts were from among the multitude of devout people from every nation under heaven,” who came to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage feast of Pentecost? It can only be that Luke is telescoping what happened over a period of time, not all on the same day.
The rest of the reading is as glowing as the first part. “All who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” The first Christian Commune? That was certainly an ideal situation that would appeal to the heart of any pastor. If this kind of harmony did exist at the beginning, we know from Luke himself as his Book of Acts continues, that it did not last long. See for example the case of the untimely death of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11, who did not live up to their “CPC” pledge. Paul’s sometimes angry letters are witness to the humanity which soon broke out in the early Christian communities. However, while peace and love endured, the early Christians met in the temple for prayer. Christian church buildings were in the far distant future. They met in their homes for “the breaking of the bread.” Their enthusiasm was contagious, as they “enjoyed favor with all the people and daily the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” A beautiful picture! We can only hope for its restoration.
The Responsorial Psalm 118 begins with the well-known peoples’ response, which is also the first verse of the Psalm, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.” The first set of verses, 2-4, contains a “people’s response” (in triplicate) within the Psalm, “His mercy endures forever.” The second set of verses, 13-15, respond to the joy of the first reading, as the Psalmist thanks the Lord for delivering him from some dire situation. The third set of verses, 22-24, repeats from last Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm “The stone which the builders rejected etc.” These verses, as was pointed out in last week’s column, were used by three gospels to justify the Christian mission to the Gentiles, but Acts 2:11 applies them to Jesus, rejected by his own people and yet became the cornerstone (of the Way), as Christianity was at one time called.
The second reading is the beginning of a letter attributed to St. Peter. The author instructs his people about God’s mercy in giving us a new birth, thus indicating that this letter may have been a long baptismal instruction. That new birth was made possible through the resurrection of Jesus. There is reference to the possibility of suffering. If the letter is authored by Peter himself, it would have to be written before 64 A.D., the generally accepted year of Peter’s martyrdom, (and that of Paul), in Rome during the Neronian persecution. The theme of joy runs throughout this reading, a theme shared with the first reading, the Psalm, and the gospel reading.
This gospel reading has four parts. The first part includes the return of Jesus after a quick trip to heaven, and his Shalom to the gathered disciples. In the second part Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit upon the group. The second part will also be the gospel reading for Pentecost, so comment is reserved until then. The third part: doubting Thomas. The fourth part gives the reason for proclaiming certain signs (miracles) but not others that Jesus worked. To the first part. In the preceding context Jesus had appeared to Mary of Magdala, one of his most faithful disciples, and ascended to his Father. Now he is back, on the same day. He greets them twice with Shalom alachem, since that is what they needed — the peace and security that comes from reconciliation. Most had not distinguished themselves during Jesus’ ordeal. To the third part: Thomas was ab-sent at the first appearance of Jesus on the day of the resurrection. He refuses to believe that Jesus had appeared to the others. For him seeing is believing. He will only believe if he can see and touch Jesus. Jesus returns on the eighth day of the resurrection — thus giving us this gospel for the Octave (eighth) Day of Easter. Jesus gives Thomas a mild scolding for his unbelief, since faith comes through hearing, as Paul teaches in Romans 10:17. After Thomas is convinced, Jesus blesses us whose faith comes from hearing, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed.”
To the fourth part: the author of the gospel asserts that “Jesus did many other signs not written in this book.” While the other gospels have different vocabulary for Jesus’ miracles, John calls them signs. Signs signify something. He chose seven, (that overused biblical number for perfect-ion), and composed them in such a way that they signify or identify Jesus under various titles. The seven signs begin with the marriage at Cana and end with the resurrection of Lazarus. “. . . not written in this book” is an opening for the existence of oral tradition outside of what is written in the Bible. It may come as a surprise to some Christians that the written gospels them-selves originated in oral tradition. A great German scholar has said, “Im anfang war die Predigt.”(In the beginning was the preaching.) Finally, the author gives the reason why he chose these seven signs for inclusion in his book, “that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that through this faith you may have life in his name.” They have the same purpose today!