Second Sunday of Easter
First Reading Acts 4:32–35
Psalm Psalm 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24
Second Reading 1 John 5:1–6
Gospel John 20:19–31
Psalm 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24
Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Reading the Word
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
1 John 5:1–6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then 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.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told 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 in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Hearing the Word
“Rising from Self-Centeredness”
This second Sunday of Easter is called in Latin dominica in albis (Sunday in White) since it was the day when those baptised during the Easter Vigil symbolically removed the white robes they wore for the period of eight days. This rite symbolized entry into the ordinary life. On this occasion, the liturgy focusses on the effect that belief in the Risen Lord is to have in the daily life of a Christian. One of these effects is the empowerment to rise above self-centeredness.
The passage from the book of Acts contains a short summary of the life in the community of the first believers. The author emphasizes that they “were of one heart and soul”. This is the second time this ideal image of the first community appears in the text (cf. Acts 2:42-47). Luke repeats this description to emphasize that this is a model for all generations of the faithful. In addition to the unity in faith, the believers formed a community of shared goods. They held all material things in common and even sold their property to provide for the needs of others. Such complete and selfless sharing is very difficult. But these early Christians could do it because it was an expression of their faith. Luke revels this by pointing to the unity of heart and soul among the members. He also emphasizes that this radical sharing took place in the context of the apostles giving “their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”, and doing so “with great power”. It was the acceptance of the powerful testimony to Jesus’ resurrection that gave the believers motivation and resolve to rise above natural selfish inclinations and become utterly community and other-centred. Their life in the community was shaped by their faith in the Risen Lord Jesus. It also became a visible testimony to the power of the resurrection faith at work in the human heart.
The author of the First Letter of John understands faith in Jesus as the Son of God as a new birth. He explicitly states that, “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”. These words recall the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, where he spoke about the necessity of “being born again”, or “from above” (John 3:3). For the author of 1 John, faith in Jesus means such a new birth. This faith expresses something even deeper; it means that the one who believes in Jesus loves God himself. Love, however, needs to be expressed in practical ways. According to the author, this love is to be lived out through obedience to God’s commandments. However, this letter focuses on one single commandment called the “new commandment” (1 John 2:8). The author defines it in 1 John 3:23, “this is his [God’s] commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another”. This double commandment summarizes the entire Christian life. Love, being fundamentally other-centred, implies rising above self-centeredness.
A life of love also means “conquering the world”. In this letter “the world” means all selfish inclinations, “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches” (1 John 2:16). The world stands as the symbol of all that pulls a person away from the life of love of God and of neighbour, and into a self-centred and self-serving existence. True faith in Jesus and love of God frees a person from servitude to selflessness. Coming to faith and love means a new birth to the dignity of God’s beloved child.
The Gospel narrates two encounters of the disciples with the Risen Lord, taking place on two consecutive Sundays. Both touch upon the theme of self-centeredness. In the first account, the disciples are utterly focused on their own security. They barricade themselves in a room for fear of those who had just executed Jesus. The Risen Lord arrives in their midst and liberates them from this fear through the gift of peace and of the Holy Spirit. Peace comes from showing them that death can be overcome. The Holy Spirit is the liberating power that enables them to begin their mission to the world. John, the evangelist, does not describe this mission as proclamation of the Risen Lord, like the other Gospels do. Instead, he writes about “forgiveness or retaining of sins”. In this Gospel, sin primarily means the sin of unbelief which implies rejection of Jesus as the Son of God. Such sin leads to separation from Jesus and from his Father resulting in eternal death (cf. John 9:41; 15:22; 16:9). Describing the disciples’ mission as forgiving and retaining sins, John means that the disciples are to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God to the world. Those who accept this message and believe will have eternal life – their sin of unbelief will be removed (forgiven). Those who reject the message will have their sin “retained”. Their remaining unbelief will lead to the loss of eternal life. In this passage, the disciples are released from their self-absorbed concern and sent on the other-centred mission of bringing life to the world through their proclamation.
The episode about Thomas provides the example of disbelief and the reasons for it. Thomas refuses to believe in Jesus’ resurrection on the strength of the others’ testimony. He decides to be completely self-reliant in his beliefs and insists on a personal and physical experience of Jesus. Lucky for him, Jesus provides him with what he wanted. Yet this is a story with a clear lesson and warning. Jesus cautions all other generations of Christian by stating that blessed are those who believe without seeing and touching. The future generations of Christians, unlike Thomas, must come to faith relying on the strength of the testimony of others, rather than themselves. Indeed, John wrote his Gospel to provide such testimony as the basis for faith and life.
Today the liturgy shows that one of the fruits of Jesus’ resurrection is liberation from self-centeredness. In the book of Acts this means the ability to share one’s material resources unconditionally, and to focus on providing for the needs of others. In the first reading faith in Jesus and the love of God are expressed through rising above “the world” to a life of selfless love. In the Gospel, the disciples are liberated from a debilitating, self-absorbed fear, and sent into the world on a life-giving mission. Through the proclamation of the Risen Lord Jesus they are to remove the sin of unbelief which leads to eternal death. Jesus also liberates Thomas from his sin of unbelief caused by his decision to rely only on his own experiences as the reason for believing. This teaches that Christians cannot rely solely on their own experiences but also on the testimony of others to come to and grow in faith. Indeed, when a person rises above self-centeredness, the resurrection faith can have its full effect. It is then that the believer can truly understand that Jesus is “the stone that the builders rejected, who has become the chief cornerstone”.
Listening to the Word of God
A young lady in her twenties requested to meet me. When the day arrived, we met at the chosen place. It was the first time I ever saw her and I was instantly struck by her bright face, spiced with glittering smiles. After an opening prayer, I sought to find out the reason for our gathering. She handed over to me a brown envelope and said, “Father, I just got a new job and in gratitude to God, I have decided to give my first salary to support the work of evangelization.” I opened the envelope and found an amount equivalent to $110. I felt dazzled, not so much because of the money but by the light of faith radiating from her heart. At a time when many young people are desperate for wealth, this young lady had chosen to act on her faith and give all to the Lord. I suggested to her that she could keep part of the money. However, she responded saying, “Christ gave me his all out of love, and I cannot give him anything less than my all out of love.”
That encounter with the young lady set ablaze the fire of faith in my own heart. Her selflessness gave me a deeper understanding of what it means to believe in the Lord. It dawned upon me forcefully that faith is not merely a mental assent to revealed truth. Faith gives birth to love and love is expressed through giving. Ultimately, faith is measured by one’s readiness to rise above self-centeredness and give oneself completely in service of God and neighbour.
The early Christian community had many experiences like the one shared above. The act of giving was part and parcel of their way of life. They did not just give out of their surpluses, they gave abundantly out of faith. Such generosity made the whole group of believers to be of “one heart and soul.” The first generations of Christians were able to give freely because they felt liberated from fear and insecurity – the old self had given way to a new self. The encounter with the risen Lord, as narrated in the Gospel text, brought a new lease of life to the apostles and, by extension, to those who came to believe in the resurrected Christ through their testimony. For these fervent believers, the resurrection of Christ was not just a piece of information to be kept in an archive but an event that had a transformative character on all those who pledge allegiance to Christ. Their conviction was enshrined in the words: “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).
The transition from the season of Lent to the season of Easter offers us the opportunity to express our faith tangibly. In choosing to die with the Lord, we have died to self-centeredness. Now in the resurrected Christ, we have a new life that expresses itself in selflessness. This life is both evident and expressive. The Ga of Ghana have a saying: “The proof that one is alive is not by lying down but by rising up.”
Our faith is both our trademark and victory. We reach out to those in need and help advance the cause of salvation not because an external law has been imposed upon us but because the Spirit of the risen Lord moves us into action. Although we have not yet seen him with our physical eyes, we have come to believe that Jesus is alive. He makes his presence felt in our lives and we are filled with boundless joy. We desire to share our joy with those we meet and bring others to experience the wellspring of salvation. We share our treasures with others without any hindrance of selfishness. We give abundantly because we have received abundantly. Ours is not a fleeting pleasure but an experience of true and lasting peace. We are in the world but no longer of the world. We are in the flesh but no longer of the flesh. In Christ, we have risen above self-centeredness and we are alive!
“The proof that one is alive is not by lying down but by rising up.”
When was the last time I willingly offered something of my own in service to the Lord and my neighbour? How did I feel about it afterwards?
When acting generously, do I give the best of what I have or selfishly tend to give what I have in surplus and what is insignificant to me?
Response to God
I recall the events of the paschal mysteries as celebrated in the Holy Triduum and meditate on the selflessness of Christ.
Response to your World
I decide on one concrete step to emulate Jesus’ selfless service in my relationship with God and others.
Although, the season of Lent is over, almsgiving has not come to an end. What are some steps our group can take to alleviate the pain of others or reach out to those in need of assistance?
Eternal Father, in raising your Son Jesus Christ from the dead, you have rekindled in us the virtues of faith, hope and love. Inspired by the Spirit of the resurrection, may we step forward to announce the good news of salvation as we share our very lives with those we meet this day. Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.