All three readings of today are a call to action. This action is to make God in Jesus known in, and to, the world. If, in the Gospel, the action is referred to as the forgiveness and retention of sin, in the first reading, the action is communal and self sacrificing living. In the second reading, the action is keeping the commandment of love. These are different symbols and images to refer to the same central idea.
The Gospel of today can be seen to be divided into two parts. The first concerns the appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples, without Thomas present, and the second, the appearance of Jesus when Thomas is present. The first appearance takes place on the Sunday of the resurrection. Fear is the primary emotion in the hearts of the disciples before Jesus appears to them. The sign of this fear is evident in the closed doors. However, this is not a hindrance for the risen Jesus. He comes, even through closed doors, and greets the disciples with words of peace. Jesus shows them his hands and his side which indicates that there is continuity between Jesus who was crucified and died and Jesus present now in his risen body. Also, he continues to make himself present in and through his wounds. The repetition of the greeting of peace, after the disciples recognize him, is an indication that the disciples can receive the greeting of peace, as a gift, only after they have recognized Jesus. This gift of peace embraces all aspects of life and thus, has to do with wholeness. It includes justice, mercy, and kindness.
The gift of peace, which is not meant to be kept to oneself, leads to the commissioning of the disciples. The disciples who share Jesus’ peace also share in his mission. As Jesus received his mission from the Father, so the disciples receive their mission from Jesus. As a sign of the commissioning, Jesus breathes on them and gifts them with the Holy Spirit. The act of breathing on the disciples indicates that they have now become a new creation and reminds us of the breath of God on Adam and the first creation. The Holy Spirit, who continues the work of Jesus, will accompany the disciples on their mission of forgiving and retaining sin. This mission does not refer to the Sacrament of reconciliation but to the broader idea of making God known in Jesus. The mission of the disciples is to reveal Jesus in all that they say and do. They are not called to be arbiters of right and wrong, but to always do right and, in so doing, bring people to judgment. People must look at the actions of the disciples and realize, through them, how far they are from the kingdom made visible in Jesus.
This is exactly how the first Christian community understood its mission as is explicitly stated in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. They lived lives worthy of their call. Their lives were in imitation of the life of Jesus and so were unselfish lives. Despite being from different backgrounds and having diverse views, they were still of one heart and one mind. This enabled them, not only to bring people to judgment, but also to draw them to Jesus and his mission. The number of people who wanted to be Christian kept increasing because of the example set by the lives of the disciples.
This is the example that John invites his community to keep giving. The example will continue to be given as long as the community shows, in action, the love they have received. The Spirit which Jesus breathed on the disciples is the same Spirit which will keep helping and guiding them in this mission.
However, this was not easy, as even the first disciples realized and as is evident in the scene with Thomas. Though many refer to Thomas as “doubting”, this noun is not apt for two reasons. First, nowhere in the text is Thomas referred to as “doubting” and second, we need to consider why Thomas was not able to recognize, in the disciples’ words, that Jesus had indeed appeared to them. Was it possibly because Thomas did not see the transformation in their lives that an appearance of Jesus ought to have brought? Was it possibly that, though they claimed through their words that Jesus had appeared, they did not show it in their actions? Was it possibly that they were the same as before in every way? While these are plausible reasons, what is important to note is that Jesus does appear to Thomas and it is this gracious offer on the part of Jesus that leads Thomas to his confession of faith. Jesus is indeed Lord and God because the Father is revealed in him.
The words of Jesus to Thomas contain a related promise that belief in him will not be limited to those who see what Thomas has seen. Thus, seeing Jesus is not a prerequisite for faith. Instead, faith in Jesus makes him present. The question that we need to ask ourselves is whether we, who profess to be Christian, are continuing today the mission inaugurated by Jesus and continued by the first Christian community. Do we continue to make Jesus present today?