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Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Homily – The Gospel of John 20:19-31 ©

The Readings of the Day – 2018.04.08

First reading: Acts 4:32-35
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 117(118):2-4,15-18,22-24
Second reading: 1 John 5:1-6
Gospel Acclamation: John 20:29
The Gospel of John: 20:19-31

Faith is Trust, Not Belief

The Gospel for today moves us for away from the ministry of Jesus and into the life of the early church.

Note well, John’s Gospel was written roughly one hundred-twenty years after Jesus died. This reading contains some fascinating glimpses into the life of John’s community, and it tells us less about the ministry of Christ.

John’s Gospel says that the apostles hid in the upper room for fear of the Jews; this indicates that deep division has already taken place in the nascent church, between the Pharisaic Jews who founded it, and the far greater number of gentiles who quickly became the majority of its members.

Jesus and the apostles were Jewish. Ninety years before John’s gospel was written, Saint Paul was active in his ministry to the gentiles, arguing with Saint Peter over the question of whether gentiles must first become observant Jews before they could join the church.

St. Paul was against this, and he won the argument. The church, in its infancy, opened itself to the world, and after ninety years of transformation it would come to see the Jewish tradition and its people, from which it was born, as anathema to itself.

There was great concern for the church and its authority in this time. Jesus is transformed from prophet to priest, he does priestly things; commissioning the disciples, instantiating their office, and empowering them to pass judgement on people, to forgive or not forgive sins as the disciples (and their heirs) saw fit.

This portrayal is a betrayal of the actual ministry of Jesus and it flies in the face of the historical account.
Jesus was not a priest, he was a prophet.

Jesus forgave sins, and encourages the disciples to forgive sins, not because they had the special power to do so, but because God, the creator of the universe, forgive sins.

When Jesus and the disciples forgave sins, they were not so much performing a deed as they were proclaiming God’s intention for creations, and God’s abiding love for the creature.

When the prophet proclaims absolution, they are not exercising a special power, they are articulating the will of God, they are announcing that God has already forgiven them.

This Gospel reading encourages the people to respond to mystical deeds and magical happenings; to ghostly apparitions and visions, as if the claim that these supernatural events took place could lend a greater authority to their position in the church and the work that they did.

Many people are taken in by this sort of thing, but every appeal that the teaching authority makes on the conscience of the believer that relies on the magical and the super-fantastic must always be understood as fabrication, as a failure of those authorities and seen for the lies that they are.

At is core we must always uphold that Jesus calls us to abide by the Spirit of Truth in our service to the church. When we lie, we undermine its foundation

In the final passage of the Gospel for today, the writer puts forth the notion that the miracles were real, that they were performed so that people would believe that Jesus is (in a special way) the son of God, and that through this belief (as if their belief were the key to a secret door) they would come into the church named after Jesus, and thereby become candidates for eternal life.

The construction of this ideology is:

Come to the church where the Gospel is given, learn the name of Jesus Christ, believe in it. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Believe this and you will be rewarded with eternal life.

The scheme of this idiom is essentially Gnostic, a system of believe that the Church attempt to reject in this same era, but ultimately it could not. The Gnostic strain of thought had significant appeal and the teachings of the Church reflect compromises that its leaders made with those movements in order to allow their adherents to set them aside and join the mainstream.

We should to, continue the work of rejecting those Gnostic strains of thought; their reliance on magic, the super-natural, and the fantastic. More importantly, we should reject the notion that there is some kind of exchange that must take place before one of God’s children can become the beneficiary of God’s saving will. Salvation is not transactional, it is a natural movement of the will of God, moving from the Divine out toward the creature.

The meaning of faith is trust; the faithful trust in God.

The meaning of faith is not belief, belief is something we hold in a proposition or an article of dogma.

A person may have faith in a belief, they may also believe in the things they trust in. But faith and belief are not the same thing. The distinction between them is important.

Christian faith is not this; believe in Christ so that you can be saved.

Christian faith is this; trust God, you are saved already.

Everyone who is, was begotten by God. We are loved by God, we are called upon to love God in return, to love the ineffable, the transcendent, the infinite.

The ministry of Jesus, the ministry we follow, call on us to act out of our love for God, to love all of God’s children; to love them equally and without preference, whether or not they believe what we believe or trust in the same things.

Note well, the profession of an ideology, of beliefs doctrine, this is not an act of love.

Keep God’s commandment, as Jesus said: love your neighbor as you love yourself, care for them as you care for your own, do not equivocate.

Do not assume that just because a person professes to love God; God who created the universe, that this person actually has love in their heart. Such a profession is a good first step, but it is not proof of anything. The profession of love is not the act of loving.

Know this; being a Christian, being a follower of Jesus, this does not confer any special benefit on a person; not in this life or the next.

Being a Christian, having accepted the responsibilities of following Jesus, this only confers a special responsibility on the follower; the responsibility to treat all people as God would, as beloved members of the divine family.

Hold to this truth: God is kind, loving, and merciful. Wherever God is present (and God is not, not present in any place), God’s kindness, God’s love, and God’s mercy are also present. We are called to trust in this, and to encourage that trust in others. God comes to God’s children in this way, always with kindness, and love, and mercy, even when God is exercising judgment, and administering justice.

Remember this, God has no enemies. God’s power is absolute, and without limit. God is infinitely greater than…

God does not dwell behind the wall of a city, the eternal abode of the divine is not a fortress.

There are no gates barring access to God, God is present with you, and in you.

God is in all places, at all times, in the hearts of all people. You do not need to invite God to come in. God set the table.

God does not favor one child above another. Cain and Able, Ishmael and Isaac, Essau and Jacob, Saul and David, these stories reflect the tribal and dynastic machinations of small minded and sinful creatures. They are not a reflection of the Divine will.  

God is a bringer of life, not death. God loves peace, not war.

Do not confuse a victory in battle, with God’s will, neither should we confuse our suffering, nor the suffering of anyone, with God’s will.

Consider the reading from acts for today. The author of acts is informing us of the way things ought to have been, rather than to the way things were.

We know this, the church did not conduct its daily business according to its most lofty ideals. The letters of Saint Paul to confirm it. More importantly, we have the judgement of common sense and our own experience to confirm this as well.

The reading from Acts informs us of what our aspirations should be. It is good that the author directs people toward the unity of heart and soul that we aspire to.

However, it is a disservice to hold that aspiration over the people of the Church as a factual representation of a “golden-age” that has been lost.

The apostolic era was a period that was rife with conflict.

There was conflict and misunderstanding among the disciples, even those closest to Jesus, even while he lived with them, and taught them. They denied him and betrayed him.

The conflicts of the apostolic era ended with the age of heresies, the age of heresies ended with advent of the Imperial church, after which, new heresies were persecuted through the power of the state, leading to centuries of war and bloody conflict, to the inquisition and the reformation that has never ended.

The Last two hundred years have brought us an ebb in the tide of those conflicts, but the structure of those conflicts remain.

Note well, they could be reignited at any moment.

There is not a single teaching of the Church that all Christians have agreed upon the meaning of, not a single teaching that has been held in all times and all place, by all people. Even the teaching on the resurrection has been a point of division, both among the disciples and in the early church.

It is not the teaching we believe, not doctrine, nor dogma that lifts us up and saves us. It is only the ever present love of God, the creator of the universe. Our salvation is to trust in that, not that it will happen, but that it already has

First reading: Acts 4:32-35

The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul

The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.
  The apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all given great respect.
  None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 117(118):2-4,15-18,22-24

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end.

Let the sons of Israel say:
  ‘His love has no end.’
Let the sons of Aaron say:
  ‘His love has no end.’
Let those who fear the Lord say:
  ‘His love has no end.’

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end.

The Lord’s right hand has triumphed;
  his right hand raised me up.
I shall not die, I shall live
  and recount his deeds.
I was punished, I was punished by the Lord,
  but not doomed to die.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end.

The stone which the builders rejected
  has become the corner stone.
This is the work of the Lord,
  a marvel in our eyes.
This day was made by the Lord;
  we rejoice and are glad.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end.

Second reading: 1 John 5:1-6

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has already overcome the world

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God; and whoever loves the Father that begot him loves the child whom he begets.

We can be sure that we love God’s children if we love God himself and do what he has commanded us; this is what loving God is – keeping his commandments; and his commandments are not difficult, because anyone who has been begotten by God has already overcome the world; this is the victory over the world – our faith.

Who can overcome the world?

Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God:

Jesus Christ who came by water and blood, not with water only, but with water and blood; with the Spirit as another witness – since the Spirit is the truth.

Gospel Acclamation: John 20:29

Alleluia, alleluia!
Jesus said: ‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

Gospel: John 20:19-31

Eight days later, Jesus came again and stood among them

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.


2nd Sunday of Easter

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