John 20: 19–31
With allusions to the Eucharistic liturgy, this passage describes the appearance of the Lord to his disciples on the day of his resurrection. The disciples experience the peace and joy of his presence as he had promised (Jn 14:27 and 16:22). Then, assuring them that he is the same Jesus whom they had known before his death, he breathes the life of the Holy Spirit into them, and sends them to bring forgiveness to a sinful world just as the Father had sent him.
Thomas, one of the twelve, was not present; and upon hearing what had happened, said that he would not believe unless he could see and touch the Lord for himself.
A week later, again on Sunday, Jesus appears to the disciples, and this time shows Thomas his wounds and tells him to touch them. Thomas at once responds, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus in reply gives us the beatitude that is the climax and expresses the purpose of John’s gospel: “Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.”
John concludes by stating that he has written about these events so that we the hearers of the gospel might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and thus have life in him.
We can readily identify with that early community which John is addressing in this gospel. It is now at least fifty or sixty years since Jesus died and then appeared to his disciples as Risen Lord. We, like John’s community, and like Thomas, were not present in that room to experience for ourselves the reality of the resurrection. Did it make sense for that early community, and does it make sense for us now, to believe without seeing and touching the Lord?
John’s gospel proclaims the good news that we who were not present to see and to touch the Lord can believe in truth that Jesus is the Son of God, and have life in him.
A privileged moment for us to experience the reality of the Lord’s presence is when we, like the first Christians, gather on the first day of the week to be with the Lord. We have heard the good news from those who have seen the Lord. Now we pray that we might be among the blessed who are able to experience the peace and joy of that divine presence. And in that experience it may be given to us to say from our hearts: “My Lord and God.”
Through the gift of faith we believe that the Risen Lord also breathes the Holy Spirit into us. We the church are sent into a sinful world to bring forgiveness, not only as priests through the sacrament of reconciliation, but as disciples who are present anywhere there is need of forgiveness. Perhaps that we are able to forgive those who trespass against us is the surest sign that our faith is not illusion, but that we truly do live in the Spirit of Christ.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.