|The Sánchez Archives
SECOND SUNDAY OF
Patricia Datchuck Sánchez
1 JOHN 5:1-6
During the Easter season, the church which is just emerging from its annual celebratory remembrance of Jesus passion, death and resurrection is invited to shift its focus and concerns to life in the wake of the Christ-event. What are the implications of Jesus saving mission? How has yet another Holy Week impacted the human experience? How, indeed, must the dying and rising of Jesus been assimilated by the church which is his body?
To assist the gathered assembly in exploring these questions, the scripture readings during the weeks after Easter put us in touch with the early Christian community. That they were transformed by Jesus resurrection is unquestionable; that they were able to sustain that transforming experience and translate it into their everyday lives is nothing short of miraculous.
In explaining how the Jesus-movement grew and miraculously developed into a viable church, the early Christian authors will remind us repeatedly that the Spirit of the risen Christ remained with the community as its inspiration and driving force.
It was this Spirit that enabled ordinarily self-seeking individuals to be of one heart and mind, holding all things in common and providing for the needy (Acts). It was this Spirit that empowered them to continue Jesus mission of forgiveness (John); it was this same Spirit that strengthened their faith and sustained their efforts to lovingly keep the commandments they had been given (1 John).
Even the doubting Thomas, in todays gospel, teaches us something of the process of becoming Easter people in whom the grace and victory of Jesus resurrection is clearly evidenced. For reasons known to him alone, Thomas demanded to see and touch Jesus before he would believe. When Jesus invited him to do so, the disbelieving and hesitant Thomas reponded with unqualified faith. Then, Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who had not seen him and yet believed.
Heirs of that blessing, we are also descendants of Thomas and while we may not be able to see or touch the wounds of the risen Christ, we are compelled, by virtue of our transformation by the risen Christ, to see and to touch the wounds of the suffering and needy members of his body. In response to the blessing of the risen Lord, whom we have not seen, we are challenged to see and touch, in whatever way we can, the thousands of Rwandans, Bosnians, Sudanese, etc. who are being victimized daily by war, hunger and disease; those who have been ostracized by societys fear of A.I.D.S.; the cranky neighbor or relative whom wed rather avoid; children of undocumented immigrants who are being denied health care and education; the elderly poor whose meager savings do not afford them the basic necessities of life; the people on welfare whose governmental assistance arouses our resentment; the homeless; the abused; etc. etc. etc. When all of these and so many more of the unnamed needy are truly seen with sensitive eyes and touched with caring hands, then the process of becoming Easter people will be well begun.
During the reign of Empress Catherine II, Gregory Aleksandrovich Potemkin was the commander in chief and governor general of New Russia (the southern Ukraine). After he had successfully defended Russias southern borders against the Turks and colonized the Ukrainian steppes, Potemkin conducted the Empress on a grand victory tour. His policy of disguising all the weak points in his administration and camouflaging his failures gave rise to the apocryphal tale that he had erected artificial villages to be seen by the empress in passing. Hence the term Potemkin village came to denote any pretentious façade designed to cover up a shabby or undesirable condition.
Critics of Luke have suggested that his three summary statements of the life-style of the early Christians (see also Acts 2:42-47; 5:12-16) were idyllic in the extreme. However the insinuation that Luke was fabricating a literary Potemkin village is unwarranted. These portraits of the nascent community represented the ideal toward which each believer worked and prayed. To his credit, Luke was forthright and honest in also reporting the controversies and failures which plagued the early church (5:1-11; 6:1-6; 11:29).
As Luke Timothy Johnson (The Acts of the Apostles, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: 1992) has noted, Lukes description of the harmony and charity which characterized the community of believers was drawn from both Hellenistic literature and the Hebrew Scriptures. Euripides (Orestes 1046), Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics 1168B), Plutarch (On Having Many Friends, 8), Plato (Lysis 214B), and Cicero (On Friendship 14,50; 19, 61, 21, 80) all wrote of the Hellenistic topos concerning friendship, viz., that friends are one soul and hold all things in common.
The early churchs mutual sharing and care for the needy also alluded to the Deuteronomist who promised, When the Lord God blesses you in your land, there will be no needy person among you (Deuteronomy 15:4). The stated conditions for receiving this blessing was obedience to the voice of God and keeping the commandments (Deuteronomy 15:5). Johnson suggests that Luke was portraying the early church as the messianic community who had heard the voice of the promised prophet in Jesus (Deuteronomy 15:1-18), shared its possessions, kept the commandments and was thereby enjoying the blessings promised by God.
Notice the central role played by the apostles in the growth and development of the early church. As the authoritative witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, they bore powerful testimony of the same. They had, as Walter Burghardt describes it, a fire in the belly such that people were compelled to listen to them because their message of salvation had taken hold of them, body, soul, mind and heart, and had effected a conversion that turned them inside out (Preaching the Just Word, Yale University Press, New Haven: 1996). This same fire in the belly exhuberance and conviction continues to be expected of every disciple in the process of being transformed by Christ.
In response to their fire and self-evident spirituality, people grew to accept the apostles authority. Laying their goods at their feet, the early Christians entrusted the apostles with their material as well as their spiritual needs and blessings.
Perhaps there is a pertinent but subtle message in the statement that these goods were distributed to everyone according to need (v. 35) and not on the basis of what was judged to be the recipients deservedness. In its indiscriminant care of the needy, the church is called to reflect the indiscriminant and non-judgmental generosity of the God in whom it believes.
1 JOHN 5:1-6
Despite the harmonious interaction and mutual sharing which constituted the ideals of the early church (see first reading), there were occasional wrinkles that had to be acknowledged and smoothed over. At time, these wrinkles developed into blatant disagreements which threatened not only the fabric of the community, but also the authenticity of the faith. A consensus of serious scholars agree that 1 John was occasioned by such a disagreement.
As Raymond E. Brown has noted, in the decade after the main body of the fourth gospel was written (ca. 90 C.E.), the Johannine community became increasingly divided over the implications and applications of Johannine thought. From what can be deduced from 1 John, a schism had occurred and the resultant two groups were at odds. The author and his adherents were opposed by a group who claimed to be correct and enlightened interpreters of the gospel and wished to secede from the Johannine community. The dissidents refused to acknowledge the importance of the incarnation; diluted the ethical demands of Christian living; declared themselves free of all guilt and sin; did not translate their professed love of God into realistic and palpable love of others; disputed with the epistolary author as regards eschatology and the importance of the Holy Spirit.
Rather than a letter per se, 1 John represents the author and his adherents point-by-point refutation of what he believed to be the secessionists erroneous tenets. In todays second reading, the issues at hand are the importance of mutual love, obedience to the commandments, and the belief in the efficacy of Jesus saving, sacrificial death on the cross.
Although the statement about Jesus coming through water and blood (v. 6) has been variously interpreted as referring: (1) to the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist (Ambrose, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria); (2) to the incarnation (Richter); or (3) to the baptism of Jesus (Tertullian), Brown agrees with Augustine that the water and blood referred not only to the sacraments of baptism and eucharist, but first and more importantly to the death of Jesus.
Since the fourth gospels passion narrative is the only other Johannine passage where these two elements are joined (John 19:34) and since the Johannine Jesus described his death as the reason why I have come into the world (18:37), this would seem plausible. Through his blood poured out for the sins of many and by the water that flowed from the dying Jesus side, all of humankind has been saved.
Just as he challenged his adversaries to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and to live accordingly, so also does the ancient author urge his contemporary readers to an authentic faith that is translated into committed Christian living.
Where was Thomas? Where was this man when one of the greatest opportunities in his life took place? The other disciples had experienced the risen Jesus; he greeted them with Shalom, peace, and breathed into them the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. He commissioned them to continue his work of extending Gods forgiveness to sinners. But Thomas wasnt there! Although the Johannine evangelist offers no information as to the apostles whereabouts, the fact of his absence speaks volumes about the importance of each individuals participation with and in the gathered assembly. In the words of Arthur John Gossip, How much must many miss who make only an occasional, spasmodic, irregular appearance at the worship of God (The Gospel According to St. John, The Interpreters Bible, Abingdon Press, New York: 1952).
Nevertheless, Thomas was afforded another opportunity because the God of mercy, who was so vividly revealed in the person and mission of Jesus, is a God who comes, not just once but repeatedly, to save sinners from themselves.
The testimony of the other disciples had left Thomas unconvinced. But Thomas needed to see and touch and know for himself. Through Thomas, the evangelist makes a case for the place of doubt and the necessity of questioning ones faith. Thomas incredulity should not be understood only as stubborness but as a valid human effort to struggle with the difficult issues. As Gerard P. Weber and Robert Miller have explained, The goodness and love of Jesus, of God, for hardheaded people is all too evident in this little exchange. It is reassuring that the Lord will reveal himself, will give an unmistakeable sign to those who want to believe and who do not shun the fellowship of believers even though they have grave and serious doubts (Breaking Open the Gospel of John, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati: 1995). In Thomas we learn that even doubts can eventually be resolved if one does not fragment oneself from the community but remains within it; through the cooperative efforts of the Spirit-filled assembly, authentic faith is more clearly discernible and more capably lived.
Thomas profession of faith is the ultimate christological proclamation of the fourth gospel. My Lord (Kyrios) and my God (Theos) revealed the late first century churchs realization that Jesus was equal to and one with the eternal creator of the universe and of all humankind. Thomas proclamation gave voice to the community growing awareness of the mystery of the incarnation. The great God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God who redeemed Israel, first from Egypt and then from Babylon, the God of the covenant, had become flesh to make good on the promises to the patriarchs, to redeem all people from sin and death and to make a lasting covenant through the blood of the Son.
This awareness and all the other insights into Gods plan of salvation became clearer as the growing church cooperated with the abiding presence of the Spirit. The promised advocate, consoler, encourager and sustainer was already about the task of teaching and reminding the disciples of all that Jesus had told them (John 14:26).
After Jesus departure, the Spirit remained to empower the disciples to share the fruits of Jesus victory on the cross, viz., peace and forgiveness. Today, we continue to share an abundance of those fruits as we celebrate the abiding presence of the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
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Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.
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