April 8, 2018
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
(Or Sunday of Divine Mercy)
The community of one heart and mind
Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
His mercy endures forever
1 Jn 5:1-6
Who came through water and blood
Thomas doubts the Resurrection
Each year the Gospel reading for this Sunday is the same, no matter which of the cycles we are in. This, of course, is because the event it recounts—the interaction with Thomas—takes place one week after Easter Sunday. So the liturgy cannot choose otherwise. On the other hand, the other readings vary with the cycle. The first reading depicts the early community sharing their property, so that “there was no needy person among them.” And the New Testament readings this Easter season will be taken from the first letter to John, beginning today.
As for the Gospel passage from John, it is striking how it presents the encounter with the risen Christ in the “locked room.” And the next week it happens all over again. John uses the same language to depict the event—Jesus comes, though the doors are locked. He greets them with the words, “Peace be with you.” But the events that follow differ.
This is not the only time John presents a scene twice, drawing attention to the repetition by using the same language. It seems to be a stylistic feature of his, which he uses to draw attention to certain features.
In the beginning of the Gospel, after the opening hymn-like prologue, four different days are counted off. The second day (1:29), the Baptist announces to the world in general, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The following day (1:35), again we hear him say, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” But this time it is addressed to two disciples of his, Andrew and an unnamed other. These are redirected from John, toward Jesus of Nazareth. And so his mission begins.
Another example is in the Lazarus -story toward the climax of the Gospel drama. The action occurs is three locations. First, they are elsewhere, away from Jerusalem, but invited by the sisters of Lazarus to return. The second part takes place at the edge of Bethany. The third scene occurs at the tomb of Lazarus.
But the meeting at the edge of town is a double scene, and each part begins with the words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:21, 32). Jesus first meets with Martha, who delivers her mild rebuke. Then Jesus engages her in a conversation about resurrection and life (11:32-27). It sounds very hopeful.
Martha then returns to their home and sends Mary, who in turn repeats, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But this time the interaction is sorrowful. Jesus weeps, and is deeply disturbed. The two sides of the experience—death and resurrection—are both examined in the duplicated scene with the two sisters.
A more subtle, and perhaps less noticeable, example is the arrest of Jesus at the garden. When the soldiers and guards come to arrest Jesus, he meets them with the words, “Whom are you looking for?” They answer, “Jesus the Nazorean” (18:
4-5). He answers “I AM.” At this revelation of his transcendent identity they turn away and fall to the ground. But it doesn’t end there. Once again he asks, “Whom are you looking for?” and again they answer, “Jesus the Nazorean” (18:6). This time they go through with the arrest, taking him away. Two completely different aspects of the event are disclosed.
Today’s Gospel follows the same pattern of repeated events, introduced by similar words. It is up to us to determine what John is doing here. How do the two incidents differ, and what is he trying to tell us by juxtaposing them in this way?
For reflection: How would you describe the lesson of the two Resurrection appearances in today’s Gospel reading?
Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.