07 April, 2013

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter (C) 2013

Reading John 20:19-31

Jesus showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (John 20:20)

I remember getting my first identity card when I was in my very early teens; it listed my date of birth, my height, the colour of my eyes and of my hair, and many other physical details. I also remember wondering at two entries left blank by the town clerk; I could not understand what they meant or what they were for, so I concluded that the clerk had forgotten to fill them in. It was eventually explained to me that one of the empty fields was reserved for a fingerprint from individuals who had been condemned of serious offences; while the second entry was reserved for outlining any real distinctive mark of the ID bearer.
The possibility of outlining distinctive physical marks is present in several passports around the world. This practice is linked to the fact that identification documents did not have photographs to start with, and that these were often carried by illiterate individuals whose identity could not be verified through a signature. Perhaps, now we’d like think that pointing out particular features on other peoples’ bodies would be a bit odd or un-politically correct, but for a long time this was the normal custom of our society in telling one person from another. Not judging, as it were, just stating facts.

In our reading today we see that Jesus has to manifest his distinctive marks to his disciples in order for them to recognise him. In our gospel we read that He showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (John 20:20). Let’s read this again, Jesus showed them his hands and his side. Then, and only then, John says the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

Jesus comes into the scene at a time when the disciples are frightened and confused. Earlier in the chapter St Mary Magdalene announces to them that she has seen the Lord, but they obviously do not know what to do with this bit of outstanding information. Even in this occasion cynicism seems to prevail. Who would you be more likely to believe, your common sense (i.e. dead people do not rise again) or some person with maybe a history of demonic possession?

And so it is that the disciples do not believe Mary; they remain in hiding until Jesus comes to them. Christ enters in and says Peace be with you (20:19) a first time, but it doesn’t take. He then has to show his disciples something that would undoubtedly manifest that He is Jesus – he shows them His hands and side as his distinctive marks, as his passport credentials.
Only after this manifestation the disciples believe in their hearts that the man standing in front of them is really Jesus – the one who some of them saw dying nailed to a cross and being pierced in his side by one of the soldiers. What’s more, only after this manifestation they are able to accept Jesus’ gift and vocation as he says to them a second time, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. (20:21).

Our liturgy has an introduction to the sign of peace that is quite apt for this Easter Season, but a little bit misleading. It says 
The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 
Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. Alleluia.  (CW: Times and Seasons)
Unfortunately, we see today that the disciples are only glad and rejoicing when they see the distinctive marks of Christ suffering and death – not before. They are only rejoicing when the see that Jesus is the risen one.

If we translate this in our lives, we understand that if we do not believe in the risen Christ as the one who suffered on the Cross, then his peace cannot really take hold of our lives. If we do not believe that the risen Christ is the one who was pierced for our salvation, then we cannot truly accept nor fulfil our personal calls to discipleship.

May the Lord grant us faith to believe in the twin mysteries of his suffering and glorious resurrection. Amen.  

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