I am what you would call computer illiterate (or at least semi-illiterate). You see I never even touched a computer until I was into my thirties. I actually completed my master’s thesis on an electric typewriter and used hundreds of punch cards to input my data into some giant computer somewhere on campus. Finally, a decade later, I bought my own personal computer and slowly learned to use it. But, I must admit that my 8-year-old nephew taught me about 80% of what I know about computers. So now I feel like I have reached the elementary level in the world of computer knowledge. My computer skills are improving through this pandemic and I am now able to order my food and pay my bills online and even deposit my checks without going out of the house… not to mention managing my zoom calls.
And some days this is about where I feel I am in my spiritual journey… about the elementary level. I am slowly progressing on my spiritual journey and my computer adventure, as well, thanks to the help of many, especially this virtual prayer group. I continue to expand my spiritual knowledge and understanding and grow in love for the Trinity and the Church. And now I feel more ready to share some of my thoughts and reflections of the readings for this first time. So here we go.
The gospel reading of John (20:19-31) tells a poignant story and is just packed with many points of spiritual wisdom and Christian teachings. I’ll address a few of the points that really touched me. The points I want to touch on, besides the story, are the gift of peace, belief of Jesus and the resurrection and the mission. The gospel reading begins on the evening of the Resurrection with disciples sitting in the upper room with their doors locked in their post-Resurrection bubble. The disciples are fearful of the Jews and trying to figure out what they are to do. Can you imagine what they must have felt? The disciples must have had so many emotions running through them – worry, anger, concern, sadness, disappointment, confusion, fear for their lives, their loved ones, their futures and the whereabouts of Jesus. Some disciples were probably discussing what was happening in small groups, others meditating and praying on their own, and others were pacing and talking to themselves. Probably very similar to our own COVID-19 bubbles!
And suddenly Jesus appears in the middle of the group and how their emotions must have changed! They must have switched to shock, disbelief, joy, and more confusion. Then Jesus said to them: “Peace be with you”. What does Jesus mean when he says that? I remember when I was in college back in the hippie days, there were many peace greetings with the two fingers. To me and my friends that greeting meant: “Hi. How are you? What is going on?” But I think Jesus had a much better meaning.
After some research (from A Primer on Peace by Monsignor Stewart Sweetland) I discovered that back in the biblical times the term peace or shalom had several different meanings and that has even evolved over time. In the Old Testament, Hebrew shalom meant “to be complete or whole”. There are examples in the Old Testament where it can mean prosperity or well-being, safety or success, harmony among friends, harmony among nations, and my personal favorite – when used as greeting or blessing, “wishing all good things” to the person addressed. Over time, with translations in Hebrew and Greek, the term peace/shalom also came to mean inner peace with no conflicts or hostile feelings and eventually the term evolved to ethical goodness… the good that comes from God, either in this age or the next. In today’s world, the term peace has multiple meanings: 1) inner peace – absence of internal conflict, 2) peace within the community – an individual at peace with family and friends, 3) peace with God – right relationship with God’s gift of reconciliation, 4) civil order – no war, strife or unrest, 5) absence of war, 5) tranquility of order – calm that comes from order based on justice and respect for human rights, and 6) peace at the end of time -peace in the complete sense of shalom – fullness. As in Isaiah 2, “At the end of time in the fullness of the Kingdom, the lion will lie with the lamb and the child play in the Cobra’s den. “
This discussion gives us a little understanding of this peace of God. Peace is God’s gift to us, and we are to share it with others. Jesus offers it to us two more times just in this reading, and multiple times throughout the gospels. And we know it is of huge significance in Jesus’ teachings. But full understanding is beyond our comprehension as Paul says to the Philippians, “May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding reign in our hearts and in our minds.” (Phil -4:7).
Once Jesus offered this gift of peace, he showed his disciples the wounds in his hands and his side. When they saw Jesus with his wounds, the disciples believed in Jesus and his Resurrection and they were overjoyed. In minutes, the disciples went from fear and confusion to joyfulness, belief and understanding. When Jesus sees their joy, he reinforces his gift of peace and is ready to send them and us on a mission as His Father sent had sent him. He did this by breathing on them and offering the Holy Spirit. They were instructed to forgive sins and retain sins as they feel is appropriate. And then Jesus is no longer there. Imagine the conversation among the disciples when Jesus leaves… just trying to figure out what happened right before their eyes.
Sometime later, Thomas, one of the twelve, returned to the group of disciples who were probably discussing what they had just seen and heard. Now, in the Gospel, it says “We have seen the Lord.” But, somehow, I can easily imagine the disciples very excitedly saying, “Thomas, you are not going to believe it, but we have seen the Lord.” And Thomas then says he will not believe until he can put his finger and hand into Jesus’ wounds. How many of us can sympathize with Thomas for not believing and questioning God, Jesus and the Resurrection? This brings to mind a period in my life when I was questioning the existence of God and belief in Jesus. I was in grad school at the time when I was grappling with this issue when I had my epiphany. Now some people have a revelation when they see the beautiful creation, the Grand Canyon, a beautiful sunset, or a newborn baby, but what clicked in my heart and soul (call me a little crazy) was when I was at an anatomy lab dissecting the foot and ankle. I just realized how complex and complicated just the foot and ankle are as I ran my fingers along the tendons, muscles, bones and nerves and then how complex and complicated the entire body, world and universe is, and I realized there just must be a God who created us and cares for us and loves us.
Now unbelieving Thomas was shocked when a week later when they were all gathered, and Jesus appeared again through the locked doors, again offering his peace. And then Jesus lovingly encouraged Thomas to put his fingers and hand into his wounds and asks Thomas to believe. A stunned Thomas responds with “My Lord and My God.” Jesus acknowledges that Thomas believes because he has seen but blessed are those who have not seen but have believed. Going from denial and unbelief to unwavering belief in Jesus, his resurrection and his mission, Thomas has become a changed man.
This encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit set Thomas free from his constraints of doubt and fear and unbelief and allowed him to be sent on the mission spreading the Word. According to church history, Thomas was sent to India, not knowing the language or the culture, and there he converted thousands and eventually was martyred. And his words “My Lord and My God”, after he touched Jesus’ wounds, have lived on through the Church, as so many of us repeat them at every Mass during the Consecration. These words help heal the doubts of our own disbelief. As they allowed Thomas to encounter Jesus in his humanity and divinity, they allow us to do the same.
I would like to conclude with a small portion of a homily from Pope Saint Gregory from about 1500 years ago on this Gospel. In it, he asked: “What conclusion, dear brethren, do you come to? Surely it was not by chance that this chosen disciple was missing in the first place? Or that on his return he heard, that hearing he doubted, that doubting he touched and by touching he believed? It was divine dispensation and not by chance that these things fell out. God’s mercy worked wonderfully, for when that doubting disciple touched his Master’s wounded flesh, he cured the wound of our disbelief. So, this doubting disciple who actually touched became a witness to the reality of that resurrection.”
It is amazing how God’s mercy works for the good of us all. I just love this gospel and am grateful that I had the opportunity to give this presentation which caused me to delve into it so much deeper than I ever had. And now I have a better understanding of the gift of peace, belief in Jesus and the Resurrection, in our community of believers and the mission we all have ahead of us. Now I’m wondering during these pandemic days… how can we best carry out our mission and witness from our Covid bubbles?