John 20: 19–31
It is surely an understatement to say that the disciples were filled with joy as Jesus appeared to them, alive and well, on that first Easter day. It will take years for them to draw out all the wonderful implications of this dramatic moment in their lives but for now it is sheer joy. Jesus then gives them a mandate to bring peace to the world by translating their happiness into the difficult but rewarding gift of forgiveness.
The story of “doubting Thomas” is presented as a warning to those of us who have trouble trusting the spiritual side of life. Thomas is called the “twin,” possibly because he had a striking physical resemblance to Jesus, but he discovers that this does not give him any advantage at all. What counts now is a spiritual relationship. We often assume that those who knew Jesus in the flesh had a great advantage over the rest of us and we may even envy them. In fact, however, the risen Lord is far more present to us now in the Spirit than he ever was in the flesh.
Finally, the author of the gospel reminds us that everything he has written is intended, not primarily to give us information about Jesus, but rather to bring us to faith in him and thereby to lead us to real “life in his name.”
The last verses of this gospel passage are among the most challenging passages in the entire gospel. In the first place, we are told that the whole gospel of John is intended to bring us to “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” This does not mean simply that we accept the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and, much more than that, the very Son of God, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. To believe in Jesus means also that we accept the message, found in his words and in his example, of total self-giving for the sake of others. When we truly accept this message, we pledge ourselves to live and love as much as possible as Jesus did.
What is the consequence of such a radical way of living? It enables us to participate in the very life of Jesus. As the gospel puts it, the whole purpose of believing is that “you may have life in his name.” This statement is far more daring and revolutionary than we may think. For it means that, through love of others, we begin to participate in the love and life of God. To love unselfishly is to love as God loves, and that means sharing in God’s life, insofar as mere creatures can do so.
In other words, we are invited to share in a life that is far superior to the fragile, uncertain life of our mortal existence. This new life is given in baptism but it must be nourished by our commitment to loving service and by our participation in the Eucharist, the ultimate sacrament of love and concern for others.
St. Paul expresses the same conviction when he writes those wonderfully consoling words: “Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). This inner renewal is nothing less than the growth of God’s life within us.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.