Second Sunday in Easter
April 19, 2017
Second Sunday in Easter
April 23, 2017
First Reading: Acts 2:42-47
Responsorial Psalm 118:2-4, 14-15, 22-24
Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Gospel at the Mass: John 20:19-31
An African tale tells about a tortoise who was about to meet a leopard in battle. Anticipating the real possibility of his mortal demise, he went about the battle ground making marks that would indicate a hard struggle had taken place. When asked the reason for this seemingly nonsensical behavior he replied: "Because - even after I'm dead I would want anyone seeing this place to say, 'A fellow and his match struggled here'." Who among us cannot somehow identify with the tortoise? How many threatening leopards prowl in our often divided, violent, secularized world? Yet, like the tortoise, there is deep in each of us a longing and desire to make our mark on the world, to find hope, meaning, and peace that will endure beyond our personal existence.
But we often behave like the disciples in today's Gospel, who fearfully cower behind locked doors (Jn 20: 19, 26). If it is not famine, war, or poverty that threatens us, it is fearful anticipation of such calamities that we manifest in a "politics of fear" that is characterized by xenophobia, persecution of migrants, gang warfare, restrictive health care policies, or denial of impending ecological disasters. All of those drive a "fortress mentality" that keeps "us" safe by keeping "them" far away from "us." At the root of fear lies a profound sense of vulnerability that anticipates a loss -- even a loss of one's life. To remain fixated on such fears is deadening.
But, vulnerability has another face, namely courage (Latin: cor = heart). People feel afraid. Fear impedes freedom and can enslave us. Yet, fear is primarily a state of mind. Our intellect draws us to wrestle with fears and take courage. St. Thomas Aquinas understood courage as fortitude mentis -- the courage to see things as they are; to confront danger squarely and clearly (ST II-II, 123.1). Christian courage begins in the search for objectivity in the face of any danger. Central to our dealing with objective reality is -- as today's Gospel tells us -- that the risen Christ is also the wounded Jesus (Jn 20: 20, 27).
The wounded Christ is one and the same person who, prior to the crucifixion, gathered the disciples, and then -- knowing full well who he was -- "took a towel... and began to wash the disciple's feet" (Jn 13:1-3). That act was profoundly intimate and integral. Jesus' objective reality was that he was headed for death, yet he chose to serve and create life-giving communion. And, as our First Reading today testifies, that united community sustained a vitality that endured, bringing life, freedom, and wholeness that defeats fear, violence and divisions -- even today.
In today's Gospel, the risen Jesus returns to that community -- now, one beleaguered, terrified, hiding behind locked doors, even though Mary Magdalene had "seen the Lord" (Jn 20:18). Having failed to believe the witness of Mary Magdalene and the other disciples, Thomas was absent. He had his conditions for belief -- concrete, physical and tangible proof that Jesus had risen. In spite of that, Jesus finds a way to meet all of Thomas' conditions, while also reaffirming the experience of his appearance to the others a week earlier (Jn 20:19, 26). Jesus passes through the locked doors; extends a greeting of Peace; and invites Thomas to touch all of his wounds. Renewed, empowered and inspired by that intimate and profound encounter, Thomas not only identified that man as Jesus, but he testified that Jesus is "Lord and God!" (v. 28)
We live in frightful times, but the Risen One is very much "God with us," one who empowers us while also bearing the wounds of today's violence and injustice. He knows what it means to confront fears and injustices. What an example this is for hope for new life in our world! But how are you and I responding to the commission of the Risen One to receive empowerment by the Holy Spirit to engage in peacemaking and reconciliation building in our families and neighborhoods? Are we anything like the tortoise of the African tale when facing the leopards of our day?
A man died and stood at Heaven's gate. The admitting angel asked, "Show me your wounds." The man replied, "Wounds? I have no wounds." The angel responded, "Did you never think that anything was worth fighting for?"
The Erica and Harry John Family Endowed Chair in Catholic Theological Ethics