2nd Sunday of Easter

by Crossings

THE LIFE-GIVING DEATH MARKS
John 20:19-31
(Second Sunday of Easter)
analysis and homily by Mike Hoy


19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told 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 in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that they may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


DIAGNOSIS: Lifeless

Step 1 — Initial Diagnosis: Living in Fear
Living in fear is never really living. But it is the only life that the disciples of Jesus have behind locked doors – “for fear of the Jews” (v. 19). How could this behavior overcome those who walked, talked, and witnessed with Jesus all along the Judean countryside? Answer: they witnessed the crucifying power of those who were “in charge” – and missed the power in the crucifixion. They are, therefore, preoccupied with their own deadly fear of consequences — and for good reason, because of their own guilt by association with the renegade Jesus. We may also prefer to hide behind locked doors when the going gets tough. We can stay in the privacy of our office and bureaucratically avoid anything that is “not our job” or “none of our business.” We can turn on the answering machines or hide behind (and thereby abuse) the virtual realities that come by way of the world’s technological advances. Living in fear, though never really living, is not confined to just the disciples’ locked-door behavior.

Step 2 — Advanced Diagnosis: Doubting
Fear as a way of life is bad enough. But the disciples’ fear really betrays their doubt – even doubting what their eyes behold. Thomas is not the only doubter in the crowd. His openness about his doubting might even earn him special esteem in the eyes of theologians like Paul Tillich, though Tillich’s “justification of the doubter” is a stretch. The other disciples had “seen” the risen Lord, but they doubted nonetheless (v. 26). Generally, dead people stay dead – so their doubting may not be all that incredible. In fact, what their doubting affirms is that Jesus did, in fact, die on the cross. But their doubting is also an unfaithful concession that death, and the law that condemns, have the last word. Death is tangible, concrete. Doubting is, therefore, reasonable; but it is still misplaced recognition of the authority of death and the law. So the qualifying limitation on the heart of the disciples is that their messianic hope in Jesus is a dashed vision, an illusion of what might have been. It is not faithful, or hopeful.

Step 3 — Final Diagnosis: Having the God of Death and Judgment
Adding to the woes of the doubting disciples is the equally reasonable conclusion that, if death and the law’s condemnation reigns, so does the God who upholds that judgment on transgressors of the tradition. The disciples “catch-22” is that they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. They are condemned for violating the tradition of the law in considering themselves disciples of Jesus, but they also betray their Lord in their doubting. No locked doors can bar that judgment. No justification can be forthcoming on the grounds of a reasonable doubt. If the Law is ultimate, then their sins are “retained” (v. 23) – and so is the death that comes to the Law’s transgressors. However, not even those who most adhere to the Law’s traditions will find much solace in that judgment.

PROGNOSIS: Having Life in Jesus’ Name

Step 4 — Initial Prognosis: Jesus, “My Lord and My God!”
If the concrete judgment of the Law demands even the disciples’ deaths, then what overcomes that judgment is the living proof that death is conquered. Thomas is not abnormally fascinated with death in his desire to touch the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and side. He desires the concrete proof that not simply death, but the death of this Jesus – whom they trusted above all else, above the traditions of the Law – is overcome in resurrection. Then, and only then, is the divine judgment against him and all the disciples of Jesus overcome. They are vindicated by the new judgment that was heard on the lips of the resurrected Lord-and-God Jesus, “Peace be with you!” This is the God who reigns supreme. You notice that Jesus does not withhold this evidence – not only for Thomas’s sake, but for all his disciples, including ourselves.

Step 5 — Advanced Prognosis: Believing
Jesus, the risen victor over death, is confessed by Thomas as “my Lord and my God!” Thomas’s confession of faith replaces the unbelieving doubt, and reaffirms the place of Jesus as his licit owner. The messianic hope is validated for Thomas and for all who touch and see the risen Lord. But Jesus pronounces his blessing also on “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29). Latter-day disciples like ourselves come to share in the full-fruits of Jesus’ Lordship over death and our divine standing with Jesus, our God of Peace, and God as our Father. This spells forgiveness and the joys (not guilt) that come from association with Jesus, who has himself come to us — even behind our locked doors. Our hearts, too, get to rejoice in seeing (by faith) the risen Lord as our Lord and God.

Step 6 — Final Prognosis: Freely Witnessing
The death-marks of Jesus become our banner over life, and for truly living in Jesus’ name. We have the testimony of Thomas and the disciples (particularly John) that we may have this life in Jesus’ name. We are, therefore, those who have benefited by the free witness of the disciples – in Scriptures, to be sure, but also in our baptism and in our communing and in our having sins absolved and in our mutual conversations and consolations. In this way, we are freely witnessing to the Peace that Jesus came to bring, and bring again, behind the locked doors of all who are too fearful to come out and rejoice with us. The death-marks give us license to transcend barriers.

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  • Crossings

    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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