ACTA COMMENTARY ACTA COMMENTARY OUR SUNDAY LECTIONARY
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK Download: Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)
The Easter Sunday morning Mass last week featured a Gospel reading which is to be read on each Sunday in the three year cycle. That Gospel begins with the story of Mary Magdalene’s meeting with the Risen Lord. In the darkness of the very early morning she came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away. She ran to Simon Peter and “the other disciple” - and there her story is suspended and we are provided with an account of the experience of the two men. It is a very enriching story of the readers/hearers but ends in a most extraordinary sentence - so bewildering that our Lectionary omits it. Having discovered an empty tomb and no sign of the body of Jesus, they speculate as to the meaning of the folded burial cloths, and then,
Therefore the disciples went back to their homes.John 20:10
Why did they not tell anyone? Why did they not report immediately or at all to other the disciples who were behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”, as we are told down the page in 20:19?
But the most perplexing “why” surrounding the matter is this: Why is the story of what happened next not in our Easter Lectionary? Why is the story that comes next in John’s Gospel side-lined to the obscurity of Tuesday of Easter Week? And why, on Monday, is Matthew’s version of the women’s tale whittled down to two verses as a preface to the cover-up story fabricated by the chief priests and the elders (Matthew 28:11-15)?
Is it because the women’s stories are regarded by those who constructed our Lectionary as of lesser value than men’s stories? According to St Luke the women who discovered the empty tomb were instructed on the reality of the resurrection by “two men in dazzling white who stood by them”. They hurried to proclaim to the Eleven and all the others what the heavenly authorities (angels?) had revealed to them - and this is how their heavenly news was received:
And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marvelling at what had happened. Luke 24:8-12
It is a pity that Sunday congregations are deprived of full accounts of these marvellous women who were first to the empty tomb, who were instructed in the meaning of it all by angels, who were met and comforted by the Risen Lord, who were commissioned to go to his disciples, among whom were the apostles. We should know by now that the women, these apostles to the apostles, were not bearers of idle tales.
THE READINGS A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35Responsorial Psalm Psalm 117:2-4. 15-18. 22-24. R⁄. v.1A reading from the first letter of St John 5:1-6A reading from the Gospel according to John 20:19-31
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles 'feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
The intention of the Lectionary in these Easter days is to run the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to the men and women who made up his band of disciples in tandem with the growth of Christian churches in Jerusalem and beyond.
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes what we might be tempted to call a communist commune. Everything was shared so that no one was in want. Land, houses, indeed all property was sold, the money was given to the apostles, and passed on to any in need.
It was St. Luke’s intention in Acts, the short title given to his second work in the earliest editions to survive, to paint a large canvas illustrating the rapid spread of the Christ movement. Yet he pauses frequently to provide snapshots of the life lived by our first fathers and mothers in faith. These are interspersed among the headline events but always there, plotting everyday piety in the midst of headline events. The descent of Holy Spirit on the frightened followers of Jesus who remained in Jerusalem “devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus” (Acts 1:14) suddenly drives them on to the streets in a blaze of publicity, addressing huge crowds, and baptising “about three thousand souls” into faith in Jesus, God’s Messiah. We hear great sermons. We read of conflicts with the priests, with the captain of the Temple, and with Sadducees (the priestly party). Yet five thousand men joined the young movement (chapter 2:1-4). There is a trial before Annas and Caiaphas for there had been miraculous healings. Peter and John boldly speak as Jesus did, only this time with success.
That is the key to unlock the riches of the Book of the Acts. For the experiences and activities of these first Christians, as Luke tells the story, are modelled on what he has narrated about Jesus in his Gospel.
Jesus began his preaching campaign by a startling announcement, a summary of all that he would proclaim and do. There are 159 references to “the kingdom of God” in the New Testament. If you are asked, “What is the message of Jesus? you may rush to answer “Love”. You would be wrong. From ancient days we have been taught to love God (Deuteronomy 6:1) and to love our neighbour (Leviticus 19:18) and Jesus himself endorsed this ancient wisdom (read Mark 12:28-34). - No. The answer is ”the kingdom of God”:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. Mark 1:14
“The kingdom of God” was the subject of Jesus’ teaching to his apostles from the day of resurrection to the day of ascension:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:1-3 Reading through Acts we see the first Christians in discussion and arguments with Jewish authorities, you see them arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and put to death. You see them facing authorities both Jewish and Roman with courage and conviction. You see, too, that life within the communities is modelled on that Jesus and the men and women with him endured as they journeyed from Galilee to Jerusalem. What they encountered on the way to Jerusalem, they encounter on the way to Rome.
Today we hear of a twofold mission - bravely to proclaim the message of God and generously to look after the poor. The strength to live this life was given to them as it was to Jesus for they adopted his life of prayer and concern for all who came his way:
We have already learned of the inner life of these Christians:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 If you read Acts carefully you will find the story on every page mirrors the story of Jesus himself. That is known to us as the Christian way of living. And indeed it is in the Book of the Acts that these followers of Jesus are called “the Way’’ and are first called “Christians”.
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 117:2-4. 15-18. 22-24. R⁄. v.1 As we learned last Sunday, Psalm 117 is song of victory, a victory that led to the liberation of the people of Israel from Babylonian oppression and the subsequent joy of rebuilding the Temple of God’s Presence in Jerusalem. This joy is given to all who celebrate the deliverance of Jesus from death and his deliverance by God into our hearts and minds. So we rejoice that this day, and every day, is made by the LORD our God. We rejoice and are glad.
A reading from the first letter of St John 5:1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 1 John 5:1-6
We used to greet the presence of Jesus among us with, Christ has died.Christ is risen,Christ will come again.
For us ‘Christ’ had become a name for Jesus. But ‘Christ” is not a name. It is a job description. It means ‘one who is anointed with oil’ and indicates that such a one is destined to do a particular job. That is the meaning in the first line of today’s second reading:
Jesus is the Christ
What is proclaimed is that Jesus is not a messiah but is the Messiah, the one who is sent into the world, not simply as others anointed kings, priests, or prophets, but as the final, definitive voice of God. Indeed, this Messiah is the very Son of God . The first line of our reading declares Jesus to be the Messiah. The last line declares Jesus to be the Son of God. A reading from the Gospel according to John 20:19-31
From Disciples to Apostles On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
From Doubt to Faith
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” From Death to Life
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The Appearances of the Risen Lord
It is not surprising that for Sundays after Easter Day our Gospel readings tell of the appearances of the Risen Lord. We should note that the Lord appears only to those who had walked the way with him from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south. To grasp what is at the heart of these appearances to disciples (learners, apprentices) who are about to be apostles, to become those who are sent to bring the gospel of God to the world, I suggest we ask each account three questions:
1. What did Jesus take away from the situation? 2. What did Jesus give to his learners/disciples? 3. What sign catches the essence of the story?
From Disciples to Apostles
1. What did Jesus take away from the situation?
The disciples were behind closed doors, huddled together “for fear of the Jews”. Suddenly Jesus “stood among them”. The first word he uttered was one of peace: Peace be with you. What is taken away is fear. They were filled with joy as he repeats the words which still all fear: Peace be with you.
2. What did Jesus give to his learners/disciples?
What Jesus gave was gifts to the disciples, and not only to his disciples but to the whole of humanity bound by the knots of sin. First is the greatest gift: peace. In the Bible the greatest gift to come from God’s hand is peace. The word is,
Shalom alekem! Peace be with you! Shalom embraces every gift, not only the end of war but every good from happiness and contentment to prosperity and health.
Then there is the gift of mercy, of forgiveness. Jesus breathes on them, a sigh of imparting the Holy Spirit. But not giving it to them for themselves but to give to all entangled in anything that stands between the God and the people who are loved. What these disciples, now challenged to be apostles of love and mercy, must do is ring the bell, call the people, and tell the stories.
3. What sign catches the essence of the story?
For me it has to be the doors. The doors were shut. Fear is locked within. But Jesus comes through the doors of fear and brings gifts beyond measure. The doors no longer lock in fear but peace and joy, forgiveness and mercy will, with the breath of the Holy Spirit, be waft into every heart and soul.From Doubt to Faith
1. What did Jesus take away from the situation?
Thomas the Twin is always called Thomas the Twin. We meet him seven times in John’s Gospel and on three occasions he is identified as the Twin. This emphasis on the fact that he was a twin, led some early Christians to ask “Whose twin?” and to answer “Jesus”. That, we all know, is not true. But it tells us that our fathers and mothers in faith, all those years ago, thought about what they heard read to them when the community gathered to bread the word and bread the bread. They listened and learned.
Thomas was not going to believe that Jesus was alive and demanded proof. So the Lord held out his hands and showed his pierced side. Thomas the sceptic is instantly transformed and explodes into an expression of faith that has echoed through the centuries wherever Christians have worshipped.
But there is more to Thomas’ prayer of praise than meets the eye. The Emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81 to 96 A.D., some years before the Gospel of John was written, was, by all accounts, a stern ruler. Even in religious matters his word was law and he insisted on reverencing Rome’s traditional gods and on the divine status of the emperor. The Roman historian Suetonius records that Domitian imposed an imperial title to be honoured throughout the empire. His imperial majesty was to be known as Dominus et Deus, Lord and God. The words uttered by Thomas in the Gospel of John may be a very conscious rejection of the divine status of Domitian. He may be saying MY Lord and MY God is the man with the torn hands and the pierced side. Tacitus, ancient Rome’s most distinguished historian, described Domitian’s rule as a reign of terror. So we may add bravery to the character of the Twin.
Jesus takes away doubt. Doubting Thomas is transformed into a man of deep and costly faith. Many down through the centuries have died with Thomas’ words on their lips. Many who have not seen and yet believed.
2. What did Jesus give to his learners/disciples?
Again the greeting is “Peace be to you”. Whenever the Risen Lord comes, he comes in peace. He comes to give God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s forgiveness to a world crying out for blessings.
3. What sign catches the essence of the story?
The sign or image that sears heart and mind is the broken body. The glory of resurrection cannot delete the marks of crucifixion. That is why the Cross is our sign, not an empty tomb, not a replica of a stone rolled back. Christians do not glorify suffering. But we remember it.
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The last lines of John’s Gospel end today’s Gospel reading. Here they are again: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Of course, you will point out that chapter 21 is still to come. And it is. But chapter 21 is an addition to John’s Gospel. It was added, in the opinion of most scholars, to the original text and has remained part of the Gospel ever since.
The ending to today’s reading is a magnificent ending. It sums up in one sentence all we know and all we need to know. What God has given us in sending his Messiah, his Son, to take flesh in our world is life. The life given us by God is the life given to the Son. It is eternal life.
What God has done is to take away our fear. What God has done is to give us peace. And God’s sign is the Sign of the Cross.
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