A night of gift–giving

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Second Sunday of Easter

With Easter Sunday, the Church begins the Easter Season which ends on Pentecost Sunday. Like a delicious food which we enjoy more thoroughly when we chew it slowly, the Church has allocated 50 days to enable us to reflect and “chew” on the Easter–event and the other events that followed it.

When the disciples gathered together on the first Easter evening, the doors were locked (Jn. 20:19-31). The reason given was their “fear of the Jews.” But one scripture commentator has opined that there was another reason — their fear of Jesus. Recall that when Jesus was arrested, all of them deserted Him. Recall, too, that when they were told that Jesus had risen early that morning, except for the “beloved disciple,” they did not believe. They feared that if Jesus really rose from the dead, He would confront them with their desertion and unbelief. They must have breathed a sigh of relief when Jesus said on His first appearance to them, “Peace be with you.” Everything was forgiven.

The evening of Jesus' first apparition to His disciples was characterized by gift–giving — on Jesus' part. The gifts were many and diverse. First, Jesus gave the disciples the life of the Spirit. “Breathing” on them, He said, “Receive the holy Spirit.” To the Eleven, He gave the gift of apostleship — an apostle is one who is “sent” and speaks in the name of the sending authority, namely, the Risen Jesus: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

However, this wonderful night of gift–giving was somehow tarnished by the absence of one of the Eleven — Thomas. When told that Jesus had risen and appeared to them, he refused to believe. Why? Because there was that simplicity about him that refused to say that he could understand and believe when in fact he could manage neither. And he was brave enough to stand by the conviction of his doubts.

When Jesus next appeared, Thomas was present. He then addressed Thomas' inner turmoil as He wanted him back in the company of His disciples: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” At this, all Thomas could do was to fall on his knees and say, “My Lord and my God!” “Lord” and “God” are Old Testament names for God and thus the Easter faith of Thomas recognized God in the risen Jesus. This has since become the basic Christian credo.

It can be said that Thomas was easily healed because he already somehow “believed” in Jesus (the pre–Resurrection faith was different from that of the post–Resurrection). Recall, that when Jesus told His disciples of what awaited Him in Jerusalem, Thomas said to his companions, “Let us also go to die with him.”

We can easily identify with Thomas. When we experience failures and disappointments, when our trust is betrayed by a close friend or when a loved one dies, like Thomas we also challenge God to show His hands (no pun intended). Sometimes, we even give up on Him, turn our backs on Him. In other words, we can lose our gift of life by our infidelity to God, by our sins.

Knowing human nature only too well, specially our inclination to sin, Jesus had made a provision for this. That same evening He gave to His apostles one final gift — the power to forgive sins in His name: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This power is now with their successors — our bishops and priests — and it is at our disposal.

In a sense, it was fortunate that Thomas was absent when Jesus first appeared to His disciples. For through him, Jesus also had some words addressed to us. To Thomas Jesus said, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?” And to us He said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Thus ours, too, are the gifts of Easter! It was during our baptism that we formally received the Source of faith Himself, the Holy Spirit. Over the years we have made this faith grow by cooperating with the Spirit — through our prayers, reflections on God's words and the performance of good works based on Jesus' teachings and deeds.

It was because of Jesus' Resurrection with the consequent giving of His Spirit that we have faith which leads to love. Full of faith and love, we should become proclaimers to others of the Risen Christ and His love and mercy by our words and deeds. And if we fail in faith and love, when we sin, with contrition in our hearts we can once again return to His love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

How really wonderful are the gifts of Easter! We can only humbly bow our head in gratitude at the goodness and wisdom of God. Like Thomas, let us say to the Risen Christ, “My lord and my God!”