Updated: Apr 15, 2021
The Gospel for this week takes place the evening of the Resurrection. In the morning, people discover that Jesus' body is missing from the tomb, but they do not all immediately believe that Jesus is Risen from the dead. Mary Magdalene believes, but only after she hears Jesus call her name. Jesus sends her to tell the disciples, but it is difficult for them to believe without seeing him. It is difficult to believe in someone who is absent.
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
We do not hear whether the disciples discuss Mary Magdalene's story while they are hiding. Their fear is greater than their curiosity. There has been one death, and they are afraid that the killing has only just begun.
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.
How does Jesus simply appear there? No one asks! Now their joy is greater than their curiosity! Jesus is no longer absent; they can see him with their own eyes. The marks of death are still on him, but he stands there, so obviously alive. Their fear has turned to joy.
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.”
To us, it sounds strange to hear that Jesus breathes on them. Even before the pandemic, we did not breathe on each other. It would be rude. What can this mean?
First, we can say that if Jesus breathes, he is truly alive; there can be no doubt. We can wonder what it felt like to fill his lungs once again with fresh air when he first stepped out of the tomb.
Jesus breathes; he has life. But this life is different from the life he had before. It is different from the life you and I have now. Locked doors do not stop him from being with his disciples. Jesus has reached a higher level of life. Risen life--life that does not end in death--has a different kind of breath. His breath is the life of God.
When he breathes on them, Jesus says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit is Jesus' breath. The Holy Spirit is the life of God. And Jesus gives it to the disciples.
Soon they will not see Jesus because he will return to God the Father. But Jesus has given them the Holy Spirit; they share his life, they can share in his work. They will go out and forgive sins, just like Jesus does, just like God does. Jesus breathes on them giving them the help they need to do the work of the Kingdom.
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.”
Poor Thomas. For a week, nothing new happens. What is that week like for Thomas? He must feel so left out, so isolated. The other disciples are thrilled with having seen Jesus and with receiving the Holy Spirit, but their joy does not infect him. He doubts whether this is true. Thomas does not say that he will never believe, but he is not going to believe just because they tell him. He wants to see for himself.
Because of his doubt, people like to call him "Doubting Thomas." This is hardly fair, though, is it? None of the other disciples believed when Mary Magdalene told them what she had experienced; they were too afraid.
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!”
Into Thomas' doubt and isolation, Jesus comes with his peace. Jesus knows that Thomas needs to see him in order to know with his whole body and soul that Jesus is truly Risen. (Same as the other disciples!) He knows that Thomas needs something physical--something to see, something to touch--in order to believe. And Jesus has mercy on him; he gives himself to Thomas. Presented with the body of Christ, Thomas--"Faith-filled Thomas", let's call him--makes a great declaration of faith: 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.”
Jesus, so full of mercy, that free gift of himself, remembers us, doesn't he? We have come to believe, but we have not had an experience of seeing Jesus Risen standing among us, breathing the Holy Spirit upon us. Into that moment of Thomas' exploding faith, Jesus gathers us all in, across time and space. My Lord and my God!
Jesus knows that Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and the other disciples need to have a physical experience in order for doubt and fear to transform into faith. He knows this because God knows this. God knows humans are physical beings; God makes us this way. This is how we learn, this is how we grow--exploring the world through our senses. God gives us Jesus, after all, a physical being, because we need the physical in order to encounter God.
Jesus calls us blessed who come to believe without seeing him, but Jesus does not leave us without the physical. He prepares for this before he dies. Jesus makes sure we are not left without something to see, something to touch, something to taste. Each time we gather together for Mass, we exchange Jesus' greeting and gift: Peace be with you. Then we stretch out our hands to receive his great mercy, the gift of himself. Presented with the body of Christ, we say, Amen! But we could instead say, with Faith-filled Thomas,