FROM A READING FOR APRIL 12, SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
'With great power the Apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all...' - Acts 4:33


I received an insight just a few years ago. Like most everyone who comments on Sunday's Gospel passage (John 20:19-31), I make a big thing of Jesus's last remark to Thomas: "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Obviously, the evangelist put these consoling words into this passage to assure his readers that faith in Jesus' resurrection isn't reserved only for the eyewitnesses of the event. Even we, 20 centuries later, can achieve that same faith.

Yet I only recently connected this assurance with something all Scripture scholars believe: Nothing in our Christian Scriptures was written by anyone who personally knew the historical Jesus.

None of our sacred authors "saw and then believed." They had experienced the risen Jesus not on Easter Sunday evening or a week later in the upper room, but years later in personal encounters with Him in relating to members of their Christian communities. That applies even to the person who composed Sunday's Gospel passage!

Growing belief
Those who created our Gospels only came to faith in Jesus' actual resurrection years after the event. They might have been chronologically closer to the historical Jesus, but the process by which they began to believe in His resurrection was identical to the one we employ 2,000 years later.

There's no other way to reach that essential truth of our faith than by coming into contact with people who show by the way they live that they've come into contact with the risen Jesus in their daily lives.

That appears to be one of the reasons the fourth evangelist places Jesus' command to forgive one another's sins on Easter Sunday night: Nothing better demonstrates our belief in Jesus' resurrection than our determination to become forgiving people. Just as Jesus becomes a new creation through His death and resurrection, so we become new creations by the way we relate to others.

Most commentators are convinced Luke's description of the perfect Jerusalem community in Sunday's Acts (4:32-35) passage is really a goal he's setting for the future and not a reflection on something that actually happened in the past. That he mentions such a self-giving group of people is a sign that he understands what it means to have faith in ourselves as the risen Christ's body.

How to be Christian
Members of the same body treat their members in unique ways. There's no other way to judge and be judged. If we relate to people in selfish ways, then we're demonstrating we have no faith in the risen Jesus among us. Who would come to faith by observing our selfish behavior?

The author of I John (5:1-6) zeroes in on that behavioral aspect of faith in Sunday's second reading: "In this way, we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey His commandments." When the author speaks about believing "Jesus is the Christ," he, like Paul, is employing the title "Christ" to refer to the risen Jesus. It's the Christ who instructs us on what it means to be both children of God and keepers of God's commandments.

By mentioning those who have not "seen, yet believe," the fourth evangelist is telling us that though he, like Thomas, didn't physically put his hand and finger into Jesus' wounds, he had experienced the wounds of those who had become the body of Christ: those who had been at times wounded to the point of death by the way they gave themselves to others.

The Gospel author wasn't converted by arguments, but by actions -- actions which sprung from a belief in Jesus' generous, life-changing presence, right here and now.