Today’s Gospel is easily divided into two parts: Jesus appearing to the apostles and giving them a mission, and then again with Thomas present. However, when we see the connection between the two sections, there is a message of great encouragement for us as a church today.
Although the apostles are in a locked room for fear of the Jews, they do not seem to evidence any fear when Jesus appears to them.
Showing them His hands and feet, reminders of the crucifixion, He wishes them peace, breathes on them and commissions them to go forth, giving them authority to forgive sins, to share in His mission of salvation.
By breathing on them, He shared His spirit with them so that as they went forward to continue His mission, they would know that he was always with them.
The second part of the Gospel has become known as the story of “Doubting Thomas.”
To be completely honest, that is not entirely fair.
Yes, Thomas makes the statement that he would not believe unless he too saw and touched the marks. Is it not understandable that after being with Jesus for three years, he would be a bit hurt that Jesus would appear when he was out? Remember, early in the Gospel of John when Jesus tells the twelve that it is time to go to Jerusalem even though He knows it will be dangerous, it was Thomas who told the others, “Then, let us go to Jerusalem to die with Him” (Jn 11:16).
Those are hardly the words of someone whose faith is weak. I could only imagine that Thomas was a bit embarrassed when Jesus returned and used his own words to invite him to join the mission of the others.
His proclamation, “My Lord and My God,” was not just a statement of faith that it was really Jesus but also a dedication of himself to the mission Jesus was giving to go out and proclaim the good news.
Yet, there is a subtle hint at a greater message here.
Jesus used Thomas’ own words (about seeing and touching the marks of the nails) even though He was not there when Thomas spoke them.
How could He have known them unless He really was with them even though they could not see Him? Thomas’ absence gave Jesus the opportunity to assure all eleven apostles (of course, Judas had already hanged himself and Matthias was not yet chosen) that His promise to be with them always was real and that as they carried on His mission, His grace would empower them.
This section of the Gospel ends with the words, “…these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (As a technical note, this was probably the end of the original version of St. John’s Gospel. The final chapter was most likely added on by a disciple of John at a later date.)
The words are addressed to us as we hear them today. The continuance of the mission of Christ is in our hands as a church with each member having his or her own specific role to fulfill.
The life of faith is sometimes easy, joyful and pleasant and at other times challenging and difficult.
But, if we remain faithful to Our Lord and Our God, He is always with us to give us the strength we need from day to day.
Readings for Third Sunday of Easter
Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.