Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Acts 5:12-16
Here is a vignette of the apostles’ ministry in the early community after Pentecost. It shows the power of the risen Christ at work in his Church. The apostolic preaching is not mentioned here, but there are never signs and wonders without the proclamation of the word.
The phrase “were added to the Lord” is very striking. New converts were “added,” that is, they were brought into an already existing community. They did not hear the message and get together to form a community of their own; the community was already there.
And they “were added”—a reverential passive denoting that it was God who added them; it was not the Church that added new members. The new converts did not become members on their own, but God translated them into the redeemed community.
Responsorial Psalm: 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Psalm 118, with its reference to the rejection of the stone and its subsequent elevation to be the chief cornerstone, was perhaps the earliest Old Testament passage that the primitive community applied to Christ’s death and resurrection.
It was the basic Old Testament passage for the “no-yes” interpretation of the death and resurrection: the death of Jesus as Israel’s (and all humankind’s) “no” to Jesus, and the resurrection as God’s vindication of him, his “yes” to all that Jesus had said and done and suffered during his earthly life.
Reading II: Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
This is the opening vision of the Apocalypse, in which John the Seer sees the risen Christ and receives the messages for the seven churches. Some have held that this vision was a continuation of the post-resurrection appearances.
It is true that the language of the vision is used about the original appearances (1 Cor 15:3-8), and that in the earliest tradition the appearances were appearances “from heaven” (Paul; Mark; Mt 28:18; Jn 21) rather than massive apparitions of a Christ still on earth, as in the later tradition (Lk 24; Jn 20).
But Paul (1 Cor 15:8) is emphatic that the appearance to himself on the road to Damascus was last, not only in date but as a matter of principle.
Paul himself had later visions of the risen Christ (2 Cor 12:1-4; note that there he pictures himself as being transported to heaven, rather than the risen Christ as appearing from heaven upon earth). Moreover, the resurrection appearances were revelations that formed the Church and gave it its mission in the world.
Subsequent visions, like those of Paul in 2 Cor 12:1-4 and of John the Seer in our reading today, only continue what was begun at Easter. The auditory element here repeats, but does not add to, the original Easter revelations: Christ reveals himself as alive out of death.
Gospel: John 20:19-31
This, the traditional gospel for this Sunday, describes two appearances: to the disciples on Easter evening, which appears in various forms in Matthew, Luke, and here; and to Thomas a week later, which is peculiar to John.
The element of doubt, which characterized the appearance tradition almost from the beginning and which proves that the appearances were not merely wish-fulfillment, has here been expanded for apologetic purposes, enabling the risen One to establish his identity.
The earlier tradition had pictured the risen One in more spiritual terms; this later emphasis on the physical reality of the risen body preserves the truth of the identity amid-change between the earthly Jesus and the resurrected One.
John, however, has given this story his own twist by taking up a concern of the later Church. How could a person believe in the risen One without having received an appearance? Answer: Seeing him is no guarantee of believing.
Even disciples had to come to faith when they saw him; so those who have not seen him can still have the blessedness of faith through believing the testimony of the first witnesses.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University