For The next few months our liturgies and the readings will given us a look back to "the way it was" in the development of the early church with all the excitement and challenges that the disciples faced. We will move from the excitement of the days and weeks following the resurrection to the feast of the Ascension followed by the feast of Pentecost. Today we see the beginnings of the realization that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead. No one had ever experienced the physical presence of a resurrected person and no one has experienced that reality since the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas was the pragmatist and refused to believe what the other disciples had told him. At the first appearance of Jesus Thomas was not with them. I can hear Thomas saying to the disciples upon them saying, "You won't believe what happened. Jesus simply appeared to us with the greeting, 'Peace be with you,'" Thomas probably said something like, "Yeah, right! Jesus was killed and buried-end of story. Get over it. Move on with your life." It took a second appearance of Jesus a week later to convince Thomas. Jesus knew Thomas as they had spend a few years together traveling around Galilee and Jerusalem in public ministry. Jesus knew Thomas was the pragmatist of the group-a real "hands-on guy". Thomas liked to be shown-to actually see-to feel and to smell what it was. So Jesus called Thomas over and told him to feel, to see, to put his fingers in the nail wounds. If you want proof here you have it!! The response from Thomas: "My Lord and My God" is viewed by many as the ultimate Profession of Faith. Thomas needed no more proof. Jesus follows with the statement that has gone down in history-even to today: "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." We are in that last category. From the day of resurrection to today only a few have seen the risen Jesus in his new bodily form.
The early church had the benefit of actually seeing the risen Jesus as He walked with them on the road to Emmaus, talked with them, ate with them and challenged them to take on a new life themselves. During the final days of the earthly ministry of Jesus in total human form-prior to his death and resurrection we had seen the doubt that many had shown toward Jesus-even the denial of Jesus as shown by Judas and Peter who denied he knew Jesus three times the night before his death. The resurrected Jesus continued his compassionate ways and total acceptance of the disciples. Jesus was not angry with them but greeted them with "Peace be with you". They rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Once Jesus knew the disciples had realized that this person standing before them was actually him he commissioned them saying to them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
Of all the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels; all the miracles; all the metaphors and analogies we find through out the year I feel one of the most challenging is the above simple statement of Jesus to the disciples, "As the Father has sent me so I send you". We need to comb through the Gospels to see just what the Father-the Abba God asked Jesus to do. It takes three cycles of the church year to get through many of the significant teachings of Jesus. We are familiar with the compassion of Jesus in the story of the Good Samaritan; Jesus searching out the lost in the Good Shepherd story; the non judgmental Jesus in the discussion with the woman at the well; the many healing stories of the blind and the deaf being cured and the list goes on for three years of Sunday Gospel Readings. Jesus freed us from the need to follow old out dated laws which had been meant for a different time and place. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets. We are commissioned by Jesus; sent by Jesus to do what he was sent to do. For three short years we have listened to Jesus in his public ministry; his compassionate love for all people; his unending attempt to remove all barriers and finally bring about the reign of God. We must do the same.
As the Gospel of John continues we hear, "He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained." This statement has been used in giving authority to priests to forgive sins and the establishment of the Sacrament of Penance. Remember John's Gospel states the DISCIPLES were gathered in the room not just the 11 APOSTLES not the 12 as Judas had committed suicide. Among the disciples were men and women. Since Mary the mother of Jesus was at the cross one can assume she was there. Also Mary Magdala was the first person to go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus and a very close friend of Jesus may have been there. She was the first to see the risen Jesus on Easter Sunday morning. One can assume she was there relating her experiences with the other disciples. The Gospel of John does not give a precise number---only that the disciples had gathered. At that point in the early church there was neither priesthood nor bishops as we know them today. Jesus did not ordain anyone and did not refer to himself as a priest. Those designations came about much later in the development of the early church.
The establishment of the reign of God was the priority of Jesus during the 3 years of his public ministry as outlined in the 4 Gospels. The reign of God required ONENESS and total inclusion of all people without any barriers to separate anyone from the community. We see this in the words of the last supper when Jesus tells us, "Take this ALL of you and eat of it" Take this ALL of you and drink of it."
Jesus entrusted to us the responsibility to forgive each other and to include everyone in the mission and salvation that is ours in the reign of God. However we can shun people and not accept them. When you forgive a person they are forgiven and they are included in the community. But when you do not forgive them and retain the hurt they have caused you---that hurt lasts within yourself---that hurt alienates them from you when you choose not to forgive them. Many psychologists today tell us when we hold on to a hurt from another person we only hurt ourselves and we cause the person to be separated from us and the community. That is contrary to commissioning given to us by Jesus. The mandate of Jesus is for us to accept all-to forgive each other's sins, make each other whole and recognize the presence of God within each person. Can we each accept the commissioning of Jesus and what He has asked of us?
Listen once again as Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel this morning,
"As the Father has sent me so I send you."
"Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven and whose sins you retain they are retained"
The mission of Jesus was to establish the reign of God---that also is our mission.