Reflection on the Gospel of John 20: 19-31 —By Fr. Alcuin Hurl, FHS
Last Sunday we began in the dark and saw how Mary Magdalen, Peter and the Beloved Disciple move toward Easter faith. Although Mary Magdalen returns and says: “I have seen the Lord” the disciples are still in the dark. It is evening on Easter Sunday and the disciples still remain locked in the upper room for fear of the Jewish authorities. But Jesus casts away this darkness by standing in their midst saying “Peace be with you.” Peace or “Shalom” here means that man has been reconciled with the God. They have nothing to fear.
Jesus then triumphantly shows them his wounds. The wounds of Jesus tell the disciples two things. First, the wounds show that Jesus has the very same body that he died with but now his body is in a glorified or perfected state of being. This shows that the resurrection is not a mere resuscitation like Lazarus. Jesus will not die again. Second, the glorified wounds show that Jesus remains eternally fixed in his great act of love on the cross. The five wounds of Jesus are like his trophies or badges of honor that constantly testify to his victory over sin and death. The love shown by the five wounds casts all fear out of the apostles hearts and they are filled with the fruits of the spirit: peace and joy.
Having encountered the risen Lord, Jesus immediately sends them out to preach and empowers them to carry out their mission by breathing the Holy Spirit upon them. Jesus breathing on them is John’s version of Pentecost. Jesus breathing on them does two things. First it reminds us of Genesis 2:7 where God breathes into the face of Adam and Ezekial 37:9 where the wind of the Spirit blows on the dry bones to give them new life. Jesus gives those who believe in him a new life with the Father. Second, Jesus also gives the disciples the ministry of forgiving sins. This means that God reconciles men through the Church. Traditionally this is also taken by the Church as God giving the Apostles and their successors the sacrament of confession.
Then Thomas comes in the darkness of doubt and does not believe the Disciples when they tell him: “We have seen the Lord.” Yet, a week later Jesus goes through the same routine. He says “shalom” and shows Thomas his five wounds asking for his faith. Thomas responds by saying “My Lord and my God.” This is the deepest profession of faith yet for he proclaims that Jesus is divine. The wounds of Jesus not only reveal his eternal love but also his divinity to Thomas. Jesus then asks Thomas if he believes because he has seen. This question seems gentles and does not seem to disapprove of Thomas’ previous lack of faith. This shows us that Easter faith can only come through a personal encounter with the Risen Lord.
Yet, the question remains: How can we believe unless we see actually see the Lord? How do we encounter him without seeing him with our eyes? Jesus says that we do not have to see him to believe in him when he says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This is a new beatitude for those who believe in the resurrection based on the testimony of the apostles. This is our beatitude. We are invited by Jesus himself to believe by reading the stories handed down to us by the apostles in sacred scripture. On this Divine Mercy Sunday we are also invited to gaze upon the five wounds of Jesus and experience his love for us so that we can say with Mary and the apostles: We have seen the Lord.