Sunday Scripture

By Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.

Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35; Response: Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Second Reading: 1 John 5:1-6; Gospel: John 20:19-31

Our first reading (Acts 4) gives us a glimpse of the first Christian community: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind.” This unity expressed itself in the sharing of possessions such that “they had everything in common.” Wealthy Christians would provide resources to the apostles, who would then distribute them to the poor in their community. Thus the community’s money and goods “were distributed to each according to need.”

If we wonder what inspired the early Christians to act in this way, we need only look to the preceding verse: “As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the holy Spirit” (Acts 4:31). These early Christians saw God acting in a powerful way in their midst, and they were determined to witness to the gospel. Today’s reading also says: “With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” The sharing of material resources by the early Christian community was itself a credible witness that they were not living for this world or its goods. Instead, their desires were for new life in Christ Jesus. Thus the goods of this passing world were important to the first Christians only insofar as they could ensure that poor were not neglected. May we live likewise.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 118) repeatedly uses the famous Hebrew word “hesed” – which appears in many psalms. “Hesed” is sometimes translated as “love” – “his love is everlasting” (today’s refrain). Other times “hesed” is translated as “mercy” – “his mercy endures forever” (in today’s first verse). “Hesed” describes God’s faithful love for his people – with whom God has formed a covenant relationship. St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translated “hesed” as “mercy” (Latin: misericordia). Jerome was following the example of the older Greek Septuagint which had likewise translated “hesed” as “mercy” (Greek: eleos). Psalm 118 repeatedly emphasizes that God is eternally faithful to his covenant promises to his people. Thus we can trust that God will help us in our distress – for he is our savior.

Our second reading (1 John 5) focuses on love and faith/belief. This can be seen in the parallel phrases of verse 1: “Everyone who believes...” and “everyone who loves...” In short, love of God the Father requires also love of Jesus the Christ. Such a person “believes that Jesus is the Christ.” Consequently this person “is begotten by God.”

The next verses stress the importance of keeping God’s commandments as proof that “we love God.” Further, the person “begotten by God conquers the world.” For such a person, God’s commands are “not burdensome.” It is our faith that frees us from the world.

The final verse begins: “This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood” (1 John 5:6). This likely refers to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan (water) and his crucifixion (blood). The insisting words “not by water alone, but by water and blood” seem to emphasize the importance of Christ’s crucifixion for our salvation. “Water and blood” also probably point to the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist – by which we receive Christ’s grace.

The final verse ends like this: “The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth.” This emphasizes the action of the Spirit in testifying to the truth of Jesus’ saving actions in his public ministry and crucifixion. Jesus promised to send his disciples “the Spirit of truth, [who] will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13). These cited verses show themes found in both John’s Gospel and the first letter of John.

Today’s gospel recounts Jesus’ repeated appearances to his disciples after his resurrection. In his first appearance, Jesus twice says to them: “Peace be with you.” Jesus calms the disciples’ fears and anxieties. Note that “the doors were locked” where they were meeting. The second time Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he adds: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is accompanied by Jesus breathing on his disciples, and by his promise that if his disciples forgive sins, then they are truly forgiven.

The second half of today’s gospel focuses on Thomas as an example of slowness in belief in Christ’s resurrection. Since Thomas was absent during Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples, he refuses to accept the testimony of his fellow disciples, who say, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas questions the credibility of their claim that Jesus is risen from the dead with his insistence of seeing and touching Jesus’ wounds of crucifixion.

Fortunately, Thomas is present when Jesus appears a second time to his disciples. Note that both of Jesus’ appearances are on the “first day of the week” – that is, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Again the disciples have locked the doors because of their fears, and again Jesus calms their fears by saying: “Peace be with you.”

Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds of crucifixion, and then Jesus says: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas responds with words of belief: “My Lord and my God!” The gospel does not indicate that Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds, although Jesus offered him this. Jesus’ encounter with Thomas ends with Jesus’ words: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” These words speak to our situation as Jesus’ followers who have not personally witnessed his bodily resurrection. Nonetheless, we have received testimony of the truth of his resurrection.

The final verses of today’s gospel (20:30-31) appear to be the original ending of John’s Gospel. Shortly after, an additional section was added, which we call John 21. Today’s passage tells us the reason that John’s Gospel has described Jesus’ signs for us – “these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” Those who believe will have life in Jesus’ name, the narrator reminds us.