April 7, 2013 - Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:12-16; Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; Jn 20:19-31
Breath of New Life
The first time I laid eyes on Caravaggio's painting of "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" it literally sent chills down my spine.* The painting depicts Jesus holding Thomas' hand and guiding his index finger into the wound of his side while Thomas' face shows surprise and disbelief. Thomas' poking into the freshly healed wound of Christ is both shocking and disturbing. While the painting is a masterpiece of art, it does not capture the actual story of the Gospel. In the Gospel story, John the Evangelist does not say whether Thomas actually touched Jesus' hands and side. More importantly, while all the other disciples remain silent, Thomas professes extraordinary faith by saying, "My Lord and God!" For me to narrowly interpret today's Gospel story as the story of "Doubting Thomas" is to miss the big picture and the significance of today's celebration. The center figure of today's Gospel is really the risen Jesus, not Thomas!
Jesus does exceptional deeds in today's Gospel passage. On the evening of Resurrection Day when the disciples are still living in fear behind locked doors, Jesus comes into their midst and gives them the gift of total peace or "shalom." He then breathes on them the gift of the Holy Spirit! Jesus' breathing on the disciples evokes the description of God's breathing the breath of life into the first human in the book of Genesis (2:7). The disciples now receive new life becoming true children of God and therefore are a new creation. This is clearly "Pentecost" in the Gospel of John. Furthermore, just as the Father had sent him, Jesus also sends his disciples to continue the work of God. They are to be ambassadors of peace and reconciliation. As briefly shown, this passage contains not only the "Johannine Pentecost" but also the "Johannine Great Commission."
Remarkably, Jesus fulfills all his promises by giving the disciples peace, joy, and the Holy Spirit (see 3:7-8; 7:37-39; 14:27). Nevertheless, the disciples do not seem to fully believe, for a week later they still remained in fear behind locked doors. Thomas, who acts no differently than the other disciples, demands tangible proof in order to believe. Jesus however does not chastise him but rather graciously presents himself to Thomas so that he may move from a position of unbelief to belief. Unlike the other disciples, Thomas pronounces the highest Christological acclamation: "My Lord and God!" His powerful confession reiterates and culminates the John's gospel message that God is fully revealed in Jesus!
Poor Thomas, getting a bad rap down through the ages. Even today, a person who is obstinately skeptical or demands empirical proof is referred to as a "doubting Thomas." While we may not be die-hard skeptics, it is sometimes hard for us to believe without seeing. In this sense, we might not be too different from Thomas who needs to see in order to believe. But Jesus today gives us a new beatitude: "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!" May Christ's Easter message of peace and his breathing of the gift of the Holy Spirit into us this Sunday, which is also called Divine Mercy Sunday, recreate and renew us to continue to make God, in Jesus, known in the world.
vanThanh Nguyen, SVD
Associate Professor of New Testament Studies
*To see Caravaggio's painting, see http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_S... (accessed on March 21, 2013)
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