The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Second Sunday of Easter||April 23, 2006|
I dont do it every year on this Sunday, but some of you may remember that sometimes when this Gospel is read I like to put up a defense for Thomas. You know my name is Thomas, and I always find it strange that we get the nickname, Im sure you all know it. What do you call Thomas? (Congregation responds: Doubting Thomas!) Yes, thats right. Yet in the Gospel, Thomas makes the most profound act of faith and declares it boldly and openly beyond anything any other disciple is ever recorded as doing.
Hes Believing Thomas. Thats what we should remember, but its like us, I think, so often we know something negative about a person and we remember that. We dont always think of all the positive things. So theres a good lesson there: Think positively about others not whatever is negative. We all have negatives, but think about the positive things. And so I hope from now on you will think of Thomas as Believing Thomas -- the strongest belief of any of the disciples at least as expressed.
But now its important to reflect on todays scriptures. I thought maybe the best way to begin a reflection is to remember something that St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome when he was trying to impress upon them the great blessing that comes to us through the resurrection of Jesus and then because of that resurrection through our baptism. Paul tells the church at Rome, The love of God, the very love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us. The love of God poured into our hearts, and if were open to this, were overwhelmed with this love of God now present within us through that spirit of Jesus who is given to us. Thats what happened to those first disciples. Jesus comes to them that evening where theyre in hiding, a bunch of cowardly runaways is what they were. They had basically, except for a few women, they had abandoned Jesus, let him be handed over to his enemies, tortured and executed. They were all gone and now theyre in hiding.
Well, Jesus comes right into their midst, and whats the first thing he says to them? Its beautiful. Peace be with you. No matter what theyve done, no matter how theyve failed, all that Jesus wants for them is for them to be reconciled with him and with God. So he offers them and bestows upon them a peace that he had promised at the last supper: My peace I will give you and its a peace that the world cannot take away. Its a peace you will never lose if you really open yourself to it. Thats what he gives to them Easter Sunday night -- peace, forgiveness, reconciliation. He draws them back to himself.
Then, John tells us: He breathed on them. This is a very significant action on the part of Jesus. When we read the scriptures we wouldnt catch this, but scriptures scholars tell us that that expression used here in the Gospel of John was used only one other time in the whole Torah, the books of the Old Testament. He breathed on them is used when, in Genesis, God is described as drawing into creation human life. The way its described in Genesis, of course, is God formed the figure of a person out of clay and then God breathed on that figure and it becomes alive! Becomes a living creature filled with the spirit of God! And now Jesus does the same thing for those disciples. They were dead with their sinfulness and their fear and their abandonment of Jesus. He breathes on them, makes them a new creation, and then gives them a command. We must listen to this because its what he says to us as he gives us his Holy Spirit this morning and as he has given us his Holy Spirit through our baptism and confirmation: As God has sent me I send you.
The love of God was poured into our hearts through the spirit who was given to us. We become a new creation. But then as Jesus says, As God sent me I send you. To do what? Well obviously, I think, first of all to do what he did when he first came to those disciples -- bring about reconciliation, share peace, spread peace. How? By being willing to forgive, being the first to forgive as Jesus did. Im sure every one of us has situations in our life where were offended and we hold some kind of resentment and anger for a while. Jesus says, Dont. Forgive. Always be the one to reach out and to reconcile, forgive, bring peace and restrain evil.
See, Jesus says to us -- and itís to the whole community, itís not to certain ordained people -- the whole community has this power to forgive and the power to restrain evil. As I was thinking about restraining evil -- Iím reading a book right now about Dr. King called At Canaan's Edge. Its about the U.S. in the last three years of his life. Often, especially during that time, King restrained evil by reaching out in love! The nonviolent marches, the nonviolent sit-ins, reaching out to try to embrace white brothers and sisters and then white brothers and sisters joined him and the other African-Americans in the movement and they restrained evil, the evil of racism. We havent destroyed it, but we restrained it at that time and changed our country dramatically.
We have this power because the spirit of Jesus is poured into us and the love of God is poured into our hearts so everyone of us can spread peace, give peace, be quick to forgive, restrain evil.
As we go on to think about how that first community began to live out what Jesus said, we have other ways of reflecting on what we as a community of disciples now must do, how we are supposed to act. One of the things that we might not notice immediately, but I think its very important at this time in our own history in the United States, is how the disciples treated Thomas. Remember it was on Easter Sunday. He wasnt there, but they all experienced Jesus. They gave witness to it fervently and vigorously and they told him, Weve seen the Lord! Weve really seen him. Hes alive! Thomas says, No. I wont believe. He was a dissenter. He rejected what the whole church was saying but did they push him away? No! They kept him as part of the community. Now thats a lesson I think we really need to learn in our church today, because in so many ways we have this spirit of -- Well, some people say, Were the real church. Those others arent faithful. Put them back. Dont let them go to Communion. It happened so clearly during the last election period. People were told, Youre not welcome at Communion. Thats not the way the first community acted.
Truly Thomas was dissenting from what the whole church said, what the whole church was witnessing to, and they still welcomed him, made him part of their whole community. So how can we ever push anybody away for whatever reason? Because we think theyre not faithful enough Christians? Thats not a good reason. It wasnt for those first disciples. Or we think theyre failing to live up to what God asks of all of us? Well, who of us isnt a sinner? All of us are forgiven sinners, so we never would turn somebody away because we think theyre a sinner. Or because of different ethnicity, different race, different sexual orientation. There are various reasons why sometimes we push people away, but thats not the way the first community acted. Its so clear in todays Gospel, isnt it? When youre a community of disciples of Jesus with the love of God poured into your hearts through the Holy Spirit, youre a community who loves everyone, embraces everyone, draws everyone in. Thats the kind of community we must be, continue to be, to become even more faithful in that.
And finally, what we learn from that first Christian community, as theyre filled with the spirit of Jesus, they began to act the way he acted with regards to possessions. See Jesus had a very keen awareness that everything God made, all of creation was made for all and not for a few and so Jesus was not someone who possessed things tightly to himself. Jesus was always quick to share. There are different examples in his life. When he was in the desert, and there were thousands of hungry people but only five loaves and two fishes, he said, Share them. See what happens. Share them. Give away what you have even if its the last piece you have. Give it away. Dont hang on to it. That first community, thats how they lived. Wouldnt it be a glorious and marvelous thing if we could say, in this the richest country in the world, theres no one in need among us? That first community was able to say that. No one in need. Now they werent rich people. They were poor, but they made sure no one was in need. They knew one another. They loved one another. They knew what their needs were and they responded. We must become that kind of community too-- within ourselves, as a church but as the church reaches out to the world around us, we must lead the way in showing that what we have, we who are so wealthy in this world, is all a gift from God. And it must be shared. We need to develop that spirit, each of us individually, all of us as a community of disciples, and then lead the way for our country to do the same thing -- find a way so that no one will be in need in this world where God has given enough for everyone.
Thats a pretty good program for us to follow isnt it? Its quite difficult, all of this, but remember that the love of God is poured into your heart. The love of God, God who is love. That love is in your heart! Through the spirit of Jesus whom you received at baptism and confirmation. So every one of us can now follow this way of Jesus, because it will be Jesus living within us who will show us how to bring peace, how to be reconciling people, forgiving people, how to be generous people, sharing people, compassionate people. Open ourselves, thats what we must do, open to the love of God thats in our hearts and live according to the spirit of Jesus who has been given to us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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