You’ll perhaps think that if Jesus, after His resurrection, had shown Himself to more people besides His disciples, everyone would believe that He rose from the dead. If on that Easter morning, He had presented Himself to Herod, then Pilate and Caiaphas, that would be quite impressive; but He would have needed to perform more feats. Think of all those miracles He performed, including raising a dead man. The hearts of His detractors remained hardened all the more. They would accept no more than His condemnation. To win over the crowd by miracles will require more and more miracles. The resurrection did frighten the guards stationed at the tomb who reported their experience to the chief priests. Yet, the effort by the chief priests to bribe them so they could lie about the resurrection as well as the press release by the authorities: “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while the guards were asleep” (Mtt 28:11) show that no amount of physical evidence would have been enough to convince the Jews. Something different would be required: faith.
Today’s appearance of Jesus to the apostles touches on a number of themes. He came to make peace with them; hence, they were filled with joy when they saw the Lord. He also meant to confirm their faith in Him: therefore, He breathes on them the breath of the Holy Spirit, through whose power they will become witnesses of the resurrection. He commissions them to continue the work He began. We heard Luke report in the first reading that the community they left behind devoted themselves to (1) the teaching of the apostles (2) to a communal life (3) to the breaking of bread, that is, to the celebration of Mass, and (4) to prayers. His appearance was also a salutary lesson on the fragility of human nature and an assurance of divine mercy. These men must have been extremely embarrassed at their tepidity, denials and abandonment of their friend and Master. Their hearts must have reeled in utter shame and remorse. But He forgives them, and right there, commands them to forgive others in His name. By this He establishes an avenue or sacrament of God’s mercy. Hence, this Sunday all over the world has been designated ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.’
A disciple, therefore, is one called to carry the message of God’s mercy to a broken world that claims self-sufficiency. He will have to contend with a powerful force that hates and opposes God with the agenda to destroy faith.
The first sign of Him attempting to confront the world’s modus operandi came with the reaction of Thomas to the report by his fellow apostles. Thomas represents the world—the so-called scientific community—for whom the criteria for truth and any possible cognition of reality will be limited to concrete observable data. Hence, if you cannot touch, feel or measure it, then that idea falls within the realm of unverifiable conjecture, that should be rejected. Yet, the second appearance to Thomas reveals more than effort at evidentiary proof. Here, Thomas represents each one of us with a tinge of vertigo, an inner restlessness or torment which requires destruction in order that it might be refashioned by the risen Lord. Christ makes clear that beatitude is guaranteed only by faith: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 21:29). Faith will become a struggle to overcome the collective mentality of the world, its fears and anxieties, its vanities and lusts, and its refusal to undergo the destruction to which it is destined in order to be recast in the image of Christ. Thomas’ inquiry turns to a prayer that the Lord may remove our inner restlessness and solidify our faith. At the revelation of Jesus, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” John makes the point that the exchange between Jesus and Thomas is a story told to help us “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith you may have life in him.”
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo