Acts 4; 32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1: 1—2:2; John 20; 19-31
HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY IN EASTER - Saint Alban Episcopal Mission - Diocese of Guatemala - IARCA (received today)
The readings this Sunday demonstrate how faith impacts human behavior. It changes lives radically. Do you think that those first Christians in Jerusalem we read about in the passage from the Book of Acts were leading communal lives before hearing about Jesus and his resurrection? I am pretty sure they were living their lives in family households before they heard the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. The excitement surrounding the resurrection of Jesus, and his expected return at any moment, radically changed their behavior, and their way of living. That is why we find everyone sharing their property and selling it for the welfare of the believers. Individuals bring their monetized assets to the feet of the Apostles. This is sustainable only in the short term-what happens when all the property has been monetized?
The Apostles are witnesses to the life of Jesus, to his resurrection, to his ascension. They have seen him, they have eaten with him. There is an immediacy to their experience of Jesus, which when communicated to the believers brings out their generosity and their concern for one another. Jesus is returning soon. “Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity” says the Psalm we read. Indeed it is almost a sacred experience, like the consecrating oil poured on the head of Aaron by Moses his brother, like the life-giving dew of Mount Hermon that falls on Mount Zion where God has ordained “life for evermore”. This life together in unity is brought about by faith in Jesus and his resurrection.
Our faith in Jesus has transformative power in our lives. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin”. We often have problems admitting that we have sinned, indeed that we continue to sin, but unless we acknowledge our sinfulness, we will walk in darkness and be cut off from the atoning sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on the cross. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” says the Epistle we read today. It is not that we are expected to be blameless and sinless. Rather, we are called upon to acknowledge and confess our sins so that we can be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Doing this requires courage, and faith.
Possibly the most significant person in today’s readings, other than the risen Jesus, is the Apostle Thomas. He was also called Didymus, the twin, because he was one. Do we know anything about his twin? No, not reliably. Some gnostic texts asserted that he was Jesus’ twin, and took his place on the cross. The historical Church regards this as nonsense. The Thomas we see in today’s Gospel reading has a streak of skepticism in his soul. In that, maybe he is like you and me. He’s a show me type of person. We would say he was from Missouri if he were our contemporary, because Missourians have that reputation of wanting to see for themselves -that’s why it’s called the “show me state”.
Thomas is not present on Sunday evening; this was the day when early in the morning the tomb of Jesus was found empty. Now Jesus appears to the disciples, but Thomas is not there. Thomas refuses to believe what the others tell him, though they testify to the apparition of Jesus. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." Of course the other disciples have had the personal experience of seeing Jesus among them, and of seeing his wounds. Jesus has also breathed upon them, thus conferring on them the Holy Spirit. Thomas has missed out on all of this.
Thomas may be a sceptic, but he is not a coward. In Chapter 11 of the Gospel according to John, word comes to Jesus from Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus is gravely ill. “Let us go back to Judea” Jesus tells his disciples. The disciples are opposed. Didn´t the unbelievers try to stone him there recently? Thomas apparently is the only one willing to take the risk and go with Jesus to Bethany: “Let us also go, that we may die with him”, he says (Ch. 11:16). His example turns the fear of the disciples into courage, and they all finally go with Jesus to see Lazarus.
Thomas also figures prominently in Chapter 14 of the Gospel. Jesus has just told the disciples that he must leave them to go to his Father’s house, but that they will find the way there also. Thomas is skeptical: “Lord, we don´t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” This leads Jesus to say that he is the way, and that he and the Father are one: “From now on, you do know him and have seen him”. Do the disciples understand what Jesus is saying? I doubt it.
On that day of resurrection, the first day of the week, Jesus appears to the disciples, but Thomas is absent. “We have seen the Lord” they tell him and he does not believe. One week later, all the disciples are gathered together once more, and this time Thomas is there. Jesus appears, and immediately challenges Thomas’ unbelief- he invites him to touch his hands and his side. “Stop doubting and believe”. Thomas’ response is immediate. “My Lord and my God” says Thomas, recognizing that Jesus is not only Lord, but God as well.
Thomas is lucky- he is given a second chance at belief, and he comes to believe. We too, we are given not one but many chances to believe in Jesus Christ, risen Son of God. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed”. We will not have the dramatic revelation perhaps that the disciples had. Yet we are invited to believe in Jesus as Lord and God. We do so by faith, and that faith opens the way to us for our salvation. We are more blessed than Thomas, because we have not seen, yet we have believed.