Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Great Reversal: The Second Sunday in Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday

For the second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church sets before us a combination of texts that helps to illuminate the nature of ”the great reversal”[1] inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus, beginning with our first reading from Acts 4:32-35.

First Reading: Acts 4:32-35
The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.
With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.
In order to best comprehend the inner rationale of this passage, it is important to take a step back and briefly examine the resurrection itself against the various eschatological expectations in second Temple Judaism. While there was not a single view regarding the afterlife in second Temple Judaism, for those who expected the resurrection of the body, for many it was seen as an event that would occur in the age to come. One passage that points in this direction is Daniel 12, where the righteous are resurrected and shine like the stars of heaven.

With the resurrection of Jesus, something unexpected happens: one man is raised before all the rest, inaugurating the age to come by defeating death. What is more, the resurrection of Christ serves to produce in his followers a manner of living that demonstrates a willingness to invest in this dawning new world, and this can be seen in the disciples willingness to give of their own possessions in order to help those in need.

This manner of living according to the economy of heaven is beautifully illuminated by my good friend Nathan Eubank in his monograph entitled Wages of Cross- Bearing and the Debt of Sin.[2] In Matthew, almsgiving is one act of righteousness that accrues heavenly wages, or wages in the world to come. However, a similar dynamic can be seen in Luke-Acts, something shown by a recent master thesis here at JP Catholic by Gayle Heyman, who building on Nathan’s work, shows that Luke also has a divine economy that includes almsgiving, and our passage hints at this. In fact, the community as the new temple can be viewed as the place of the treasury for such an economy[3], which brings us to the responsorial Psalm.

Responsorial Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting. 
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His mercy endures forever.”

R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting. 
I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
in the tents of the just:
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting. 
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
In our responsorial Psalm, the Psalmist offers praise to God for his deliverance, for God is his savior in offer saving help when he was hard pressed. In the second half of the Psalm, the Psalmist states that the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the LORD has this been done, it is wonderful in our eyes.

Before his passion, Jesus cites this Psalm in reference to himself (Mark 12:10-11), and what is more, the New Testament holds that in his resurrection, Jesus is the cornerstone of the new temple (Eph 2:20, I Pet 2:7). This new temple is the Church united to Jesus the cornerstone (Eph 2:19-21), and with this in mind, we are in the position to better connect the first two readings, for the eschatological temple of the new covenant has a liturgical life led that includes almsgiving as a sacrifice (cf. 2 Cor 9:8-12). The reason that the church as the new temple gives alms as a sacrifice flows from the “law of Christ,” the command of self-giving love (cf. Gal 6:2, 5:14; John 12: 31-35), which brings us to the second reading.

Second Reading: I John 5:1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
In the First Letter of John, the command to love plays a central role, so much so that John states that if one does not love, he is not from God (I John 4:8, 20). However, those who love show themselves to be the very children of God, a love that is not vague sentimentality but includes John’s command to live as Jesus did (I John 2:4-6). 

More importantly, this cruciform love is itself rooted in Jesus self-giving love, for John is clear that it is not that we first loved God but he first loved us, a love that included Jesus giving himself unto death in atonement for our sins (I John 4:10). This love provides both the way of life and the means for overcoming the world and inheriting the world to come in Christ (I John 4:11-18) 

Yet while those who belong to Christ are called to love like him, only Christ’s sacrifice of love on the Cross is able to save humanity (I John 2:2), for in this offering water and blood flowed from his side and point to the very means of receiving the salvation accomplished by Christ (I John 5:6, cf. John 19:34). 

While this dynamic is hinted at by John’s statement that Jesus came by the water and the blood, it is explicit in John’s Gospel, which brings us to our Gospel reading.

Gospel: John 20:19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to 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 into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
In order to gain a deeper insight into this passage, it is helpful to return to the theme of the temple, for as many scholars note, the temple is one of the fourth Gospel’s central themes.[4] Building on this insight, Scott Hahn has suggested that the inner rationale of John’s Gospel is to depict how Jesus and his Church stand as the fulfillment of the Jerusalem Temple and its worship. [5]

Hahn’s suggestion finds strong validation from the very beginning of the Gospel, where Jesus begins his public ministry by cleansing the temple and then defending his actions by stating the temple will be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. The beloved disciple then offers his readers an important insight into this event by stating that Jesus was referring to the temple of his body, a clarification that Hahn suggests offers a important clue to the purpose of the Gospel. 

In addition to baptism (John 3:1-8) and the eucharist (John 6) as the sacramental life at the heart of the new temple of Christ’s body (cf. John 19:34), Hahn also points to the potential importance of the first part of our reading, John 20:19-23. Here the resurrected Christ appears to the disciples and breathes on them to receive the Holy Spirit, yet this reception of the Holy Spirit it is ordered to a specific purpose, namely, for the forgiveness of sins. 

While it is possible to argue that this authority is given to all believers through the Apostles, an important link between John 17: 9, 18-20 and John 20:21-23. In John 17, Jesus prays to the Father “not for the world” but for the Apostles (17:9), and in particular, Jesus proclaims that he is "consecrating" himself for the Apostles, for he is sending them into the world just as the Father has sent him into the world (17:18-19). After this, Jesus proceeds in vs. 20 to begin to pray for all those who will believe through the Apostles. 

In returning to our passage, in John 20:21 Jesus repeats the words found in John 17:18 that as the Father has sent him into the world so now he send the Apostles, and as we noted above, these words belong to the unique prayer Jesus offered just for the Apostles. After this, Jesus then grants the Apostles the power for their unique task, that is, the Holy Spirit, and grants the Apostles the ability to forgive sins.

With this being said, what should we conclude? It appears that Jesus is giving the Apostles the authority to regulate who is in proper relationship to the worshipping community, which in John’s Gospel, is the new temple of Jesus’ body. As for canonical confirmation for such a suggestion, Ephesians 2:19-20 states that the household of God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus himself being the cornerstone of this holy temple.

To connect this rationale to the remainder of our Gospel passage, it is possible to view the new temple of the Church united to Christ as the very place where we can come and touch Jesus together with Thomas and move from unbelief to belief in Christ and therefore find life in Christ’s name.

Within John’s Gospel, it is through both the waters of baptism and the body and blood of Christ that we are able to be united to the risen Christ and become living members of his body, or to switch back to the metaphor of the temple, living stones united to Christ the cornerstone and the apostles as foundation stones. 


Left to ourselves, we all can doubt like Thomas and as a result, we need to come to Jesus and have real contact with him. In the great reversal affected by the resurrection, Jesus has established a new temple where we have contact with him, placing our hands in his nail pierced hands and side by faith and have life in his name. In this resurrection life, the church lives as the new temple where the life of the age to come dawns through self-giving sacrifice that operates on the basis of the command to love as Jesus loves. In this way of life, the world is able to see the ongoing life of Jesus in the world and know that it is through the resurrection of Jesus that the age to come has dawned, the age of divine mercy.


[1] This is the title of a book by Allen Verhey, which is cited by Stanley Hauerwas in regard to the resurrection. See Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader, edited by John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 259.

[2] See Nathan Eubank, Wages of Cross-Bearing and the Debt of Sin: The Economy of Heaven in Matthew’s Gospel, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 196 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013).

[3] This is suggested by Nicholas Perrin in his book Jesus the Temple (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010).

[4] In addition to Perrin noted above, see Mary L. Coloe, God Dwells With Us: Temple Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001); Alan Kerr, The Temple of Jesus’ Body: The Temple Theme in the Gospel of John, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 220 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2002).

[5] See Scott W. Hahn, “Temple, Sign, and Sacrament: Towards a New Perspective on the Gospel of John,” Letter & Spirit 4 (2008):107-143.

1 comment:

eternalvisionfarmer said...

Thank you for this piece. It was very informative and connected a lot of dots that only an expert could put together. Thank you.
I have a question: From John 17 :11+12 and The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2666 and 2668, can we conclude that the Name "Jesus" must be the Name of each Person of the Blessed Trinity since it contains all and it is The Father's name that the Father gave Jesus? Thank you.