HOMILY & IDEAS

Acts 4: 32-35, 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them -- Peace be with you.

We find ourselves still on the day on which Mary of Magdala ran to the tomb before sun-up to discover the rock rolled away from the entrance of the tomb -- Sunday. This is the same day that Peter and the disciple Jesus loved have run to the tomb to discover the undisturbed burial cloths -- but no body. It is the same day that the risen Lord was thought to be a gardener by Mary of Magdala; but discloses who he is by the single exclamation -- Mary! It has been quite a day for some of the followers of Jesus -- and it is only going to get more spectacular!

Where does this scene take place? Considering that the Feast of the Passover lasted seven days, one might assume that the disciples are harboring themselves in the upper room. The doors are locked and perhaps the secret knock has been established for reasons of security. They are afraid; for only 48 hours has passed since the crucifixion of Jesus and they fear for their own safety. Will the chief priests, the pharisees and their guards come for them next?

Perhaps what is needed more than anything is Shalom -- the harmonious equilbirium of health, prosperity, freedom and security. At the moment, they fear for their security and for their freedom -- which in turn threatens their health and prosperity. If Shalom is an oasis, then one could say that the disciples are currently in the middle of a barren desert.

Jesus knows how his friends feel. He knows why they are hiding behind locked doors. He wants to give them Shalom; therefore, The Word greets them with the word that the disciples long to hear -- Shalom! -- Peace be with you!

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again -- Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

Jesus wants his disciples to see that his bodily resurrection is a reality so the first thing he does is show them his pierced hands and side -- and they rejoiced. Another dose of Shalom would stoke the rejoicing to a fever pitch, so Jesus injects them again with -- SHALOM! Just as the disciples needed Jesus in their time of fear, Jesus also needs the disciples. Jesus needs the disciples to be his arms, his hands, his legs, his feet, his mouth, his presence, his instruments of love and peace. Just as the Father sent the Son, the Son now sends His disciples.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them -- Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.

Why stop there? Why stop with a double dose of SHALOM!? Just as God breathed into the nostrils of Adam to give him life, His Son breathes upon the disciples to fill them with the Holy Spirit. This is the Pentacost of the Gospel of John. The Spirit gives them the power to forgive sins and the wisdom to discern true repentance. The authority to retain sins is not used to hold sins over the heads of sinners; but rather to retain the sins of the half-hearted penitent who is looking for a convenient, lickety-split exit out of sin. The forgiveness of sin was costly for Jesus. It costs us too. It demands true contrition.

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him -- We have seen the Lord. But he said to them -- Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Where was Thomas? Does John 11:16 give us a hint? In that chapter Jesus proposes to journey headfirst into danger -- into Judea where violence was threatened against Him by stoning. What is the response of Thomas? He answers -- Let us also go to die with him. Was Thomas unafraid of the consequences he faced in being associated with Jesus? Was he boldly roaming Jerusalem after the crucifixion and during the Passover Feast in clear view of the chief priests, pharisees, and their guards? Perhaps Peter asked for a volunteer to venture out of the upper room and into the busy streets of Jerusalem to pick up some milk and bread and Thomas leaped at the chance. Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, they are interesting possibilities to consider. All we do know is that Thomas is not present when Jesus appears to the disciples.

Is it possible that Thomas does not believe any of the disciples when they tell him that the Risen Lord appeared to them? Does Thomas sincerely think that these ten men -- his close friends -- have it all wrong? Does Thomas think that he is the butt of some kind of bizarre, practical joke? Or, is the anger from feeling left out of this intimate moment with Jesus paralyzing Thomas with pride and resentment? This is my vote. On this day Mary of Magdala has her moment with Jesus. On this day all of the disciples minus Judas and Thomas have their moments with Jesus. However, all Thomas gets is an entrance into an upper room filled with beaming, rejoicing disciples who can not wait to tell him that the Lord appeared to them and breathed on them the Holy Spirit giving them the authority to forgive and retain sins.

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you. Then he said to Thomas -- Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe. Thomas answered and said to him -- My Lord and my God! Jesus said to him -- Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.

The first four words of this verse are my favorite words to ponder. What was that week like for Thomas? Picture the topic of every conversation at the breakfast, lunch and supper table centering on the appearance of Jesus. Picture Mary of Magdala stopping in to compare notes with the disciples about their appearance experiences. Picture Thomas continuously feeling like the odd man out.

Jesus finally does appear -- this time with Thomas present -- and He offers them Shalom once again. He also invites Thomas to put his finger into His hands and side. Although artists throughout history have provided images of Thomas probing the wounds of Jesus, the text never clarifies what actions Thomas took. Perhaps he did not see the need to move a muscle other than his tongue a la -- My Lord and my God!

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Emphasis is not placed on the gospel as being historically accurate in a chronological sense; rather, it is accurate insofar as it communicates the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The evangelist has ordered his Jesus stories in a way that it best promotes the truth of Jesus.

How does all this preach?

HOMILY: We are like Thomas. I believe a homily can be crafted here regarding how we all suffer from pride and resentment along our spiritual journeys. At times we are paralyzed by what others have -- spiritually. Anger surfaces when we ask the question -- Why them and not me? Hearts are hardened and lines are drawn. More time is spent feeling envious than is spent feeling grateful for what one has spiritually. What is needed is a trust in a Jesus who will enter into the places of our hearts in his own divine timing.

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