Sunday, April 3, 2016

Receiving and Giving

Our gospel takes us to Easter Sunday evening. It follows shortly after the gospel from last Sunday. In the morning, Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb and found it empty, so she went and got Peter and John. They found it empty, and they walked away in wonder. This story today is the evening of that same day, and it's the apostles' first encounter with the risen Lord.

So picture yourself in the scene. You've staked your life on Jesus, but just three days ago one of your own had betrayed Jesus and had him arrested. You all fled in fear. You thought he was Israel's messiah, yet all of Jerusalem had screamed for his death, and so his execution by the authorities had become a bloody spectacle. Did you have it wrong all along? Was Jesus just an imposter? That was three days ago, but now there's a rumor that his body has disappeared. You're scared and confused, and so now you're hiding, just in case they start coming after Jesus's friends.

And then, while you're hiding, Jesus just appears. As soon as you process that it's really him, what's going through your mind? In an instant, you'd recall every time he foretold his passion and you ignored him, you'd recall when you argued about who was the greatest instead instead of receiving his lesson on humility, you'd recall your constant doubt at his many miracles, you'd recall your cowardice of the last three days and how you abandoned him in his hour of need.

All of these memories happen in a moment, and instantly you brace yourself for the rebuke that you know is coming, maybe even being dismissed from the apostles, and then he opens his mouth. And he says words that seem impossible. After everything I've done, he says, "Peace be with you." Not, "Depart from me," not, "How could you be so weak," but, "Peace be with you."

Receiving Jesus's forgiveness, this complete and unqualified forgiveness, prepares them for what happens next: receiving the Holy Spirit and equipping them to forgive the sins of others. The Church has always seen in this passage the foundation of the sacrament of Confession. Jesus gives this specific power to forgive sins to his apostles. He doesn't tell them to go out and have all the world confess their sins to Jesus in their hearts, he specifically tells these his priests to share in his power to forgive sins. First these apostles, these priests, experienced and received Jesus's forgiveness for their own failings, then they received his very power to forgive sins in his name. They received this power not because they were awesome, but specifically because they were not awesome, and because they were really bad at their jobs. And priests have continued this tradition down to the present day.

And this applies to Thomas too, even though he wasn't with the apostles when this power was given, because the power was given to all priests for all time. Now, we always love Thomas, and we call him Doubting Thomas because of this incident. I, for one, hope for a better nickname after I die. But look at the lack of evidence he had in these apostles. They tell him Jesus is alive, they tell him that Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins, and yet a week later they haven't moved an inch. No one is being told the story. No sins are being forgiven. One week later, and they're still gathered in the upper room with the door locked. Thomas could rightly expect that if Jesus came back from the dead and appeared to his friends, that it would have changed their lives and they'd be out doing something about it. But a week later, and they're still scared and locked away.

So Jesus comes again, appears to them all again, and this time he shows them his wounds, the very proof of his love, and finally they started to get it. And then, we can presume that he gently kicked their butts out the door and told them to get to work. But before this episode, the way the apostles weren't living and using the grace they had been given was an obstacle for Thomas's belief. He couldn't believe in the Resurrection until he saw proof of it in the way the apostles lived.

And we have the same challenge. Each of us may truly believe in Jesus, each of us may truly believe that he's the only hope for the world, but as long as we keep it to ourselves, how is the world ever going to hear about it? How will the world ever come to believe in Jesus if not through us? Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed," and this only happens through witness. If we keep our faith to ourselves, if we fear that Jesus is not polite to talk about in mixed company, then how can the world ever come to know and believe in Jesus?

So we have to do two things. First, we have to let Jesus be the absolute center of our lives. We have to receive his forgiveness regularly just as the first apostles did. We have to know that we are loved and forgiven by him. This in itself should change our lives and our disposition. We want a relationship with Jesus where he's the center of our life not out of obligation, but out of pure joy. This is that personal relationship with Jesus that evangelicals talk about so much, but it was our idea first. And when we start to have that personal relationship, when he starts to occupy that center spot in our life, when he starts to actually make a difference in how we live and how we view the world, that leads to the second thing we have to do.

We have to share him with others. Jesus loves each and every person in this world. Your family and friends who you love: Jesus loves them more. As much as you may want them to have a personal relationship with Jesus, he wants that relationship even more, and he wants to use you to make it happen. So the second thing we have to do is witness to the difference he has made in our lives. Jesus will do the rest, Jesus will convert the world to himself, but first the world has to know who he is, and that falls to us. So our job is this: receive his forgiveness, let it change our lives, and then share that change with the world.

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