READINGS FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER: DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY (Cycle C)

Acts 5:12-16
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
John 20:19-31

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Week's Readings: The Forward Momentum of the Kingdom of Christ's Post-Resurrection Church
For the past eight days the Church has been celebrating the Octave of Easter. The octave is the eight days from Easter Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter. Each of the days of the octave are called Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, and so on through the next Sunday which is the Second Sunday of Easter. Each day of the octave can be seen as a single solemnity, or the week can also be seen as one single eight-day-long solemnity. The Second Sunday of Easter is also celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday in the universal Church. As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, we remember the grace and mercy God is pouring out upon the Church as He calls us to continual repentance and conversion. However we are also reminded that we attain the merciful love of God to the extent that we are interiorly transformed in the spirit of that love toward our neighbor (Mt 5:7; also see St John Paul II, Rich in Mercy, 14).

During the Solemnity of the Octave of Easter, the Church re-tells the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection of the Christ. In the First Reading the Apostles continue the miraculous works of Jesus as many people come to believe in Jesus as the Redeemer-Messiah and in the New Covenant Church proclaimed by His Apostles and disciples. In the Second Reading many years after Jesus' resurrection, St. John receives a vision of the resurrected Christ who identifies Himself as "the first and the last, the one who lives!" And in the Gospel Reading, the Apostles receive a visit from Jesus Christ on the day of His resurrection as He breaths His Spirit upon them and gives them the power to bind and loose sins in their authority over His Kingdom of the Church (Jn 20:22-23).

In the Gospel Reading Jesus compares the growth of the Kingdom of the Church to a tiny mustard seed which when planted grew to be so large that it could hold the birds of the sky (Mt 13:31-32). The contrast is between the small beginnings of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and its future expansion to encompass the whole earth, sheltering all who come to dwell in the household of Jesus that is the Church. That great growth began with the 3,000 who were converted at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and continues today as more and more people from the family of Adam become members of the covenant community of the Church that is the household of the Living God.

The First Reading Acts 5:12-16 ~ Signs and Wonders of the Apostles
12 Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the Apostles. They were all together in Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them. 14 Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them. 15 Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. 16 A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.

The first reading portrays the Twelve Apostles as the leaders of the Jerusalem community of believers as they taught daily at the Temple and laid hands on the sick to heal them. As they taught and healed, people were dawn by their charismatic power and the community of Christians continued to grow. The "signs and wonders" in verse 12 is the fourth mention of "signs and wonders" (Acts 2:19, 22; 4:30 and 5:12). Verse 13 suggests that there were people who both feared and esteemed the Apostles and their mighty works in the name of Jesus the Messiah. The numbers of believers who joined the faith community continued to grow. The Apostles continued to heal the sick and the power of the Holy Spirit even poured forth from St. Peter through the casting of his shadow. About this miracle St. Bede wrote: At that time Peter visibly relieved the infirm by the shadow of his body. Now, he does not cease to strengthen the infirm among the faithful by the invisible screen of his intercession. And because Peter is a type of the Church, it is beautifully appropriate that he himself walked upright, but by his accompanying shadow he raised up those who were lying down. So the Church, concentrating its mind and love on heavenly things, passes like a shadow on the land, and here on earth, with sacramental signs and temporal figures of heavenly things, it renews those whom there [in heaven] it rewards with everlasting gifts (Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 5.15).

The Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 ~ The LORD's Goodness
Response: "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting" (Ps 118:1) or "Alleluia."
2 Let the house of Israel say, "His mercy endures forever." 3 Let the house of Aaron say, "His mercy endures forever." 4 Let those who dear the LORD say, "His mercy endures forever."
Response:
13 I was hard pressed and was falling, but the LORD helped me. 14 My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior. 15 The joyful shout of victory in the tents of the just:
Response:
22 The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23 By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes. 24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.
Response:

The psalm opens in verses 1-4 with a standard liturgical formula of thanksgiving and trust in the LORD that was sung in the Temple worship services (i.e. see Ps 106:1; 107:1 and 136). In verses 13-15 the psalmist remembers when he was in distress either because of sin or because of some temporal suffering, but the LORD (Yahweh) came to his rescue and saved him: YHWH is salvation! Verse 14 I repeats word for word part of the victory canticle of Moses after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 15:2, a reminder to the people singing Psalm 118 in the Temple liturgy that YHWH who saved them from Egyptian bondage is still their savior and Lord. It is significant that in the 29 verses of Psalm 118, God's holy covenant name, YHWH (Yahweh), is evoked 28 times. God's covenant name was always spoken in the Temple worship service.

"YHWH is salvation" is, of course, the meaning of Jesus' Hebrew name. In the New Testament it is in Psalm 118:22-24 that we proclaim Jesus as the Messiah-Savoir and foundation stone of the New Covenant Kingdom of the Church. In the New Testament Psalm 118 has been center stage from the time of Jesus' triumphal ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and the Messiah's role as the "cornerstone" was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (see Is 28:16 also Mt 21:42; Acts 4:11; Rom 9:33; Eph 2:20 1 Pt 2:7). The crowds of people who followed Jesus on Palm Sunday as He rode into the city kept crying out and saying; "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest" (Mt 21:9 quoting Ps 118:26 underlined; also see Mk 11:9; the variation in Lk 19:38a). Jesus also identified Himself with this psalm in Mt 23:39 when Jesus admonished Jerusalem and said: "I promise, you shall not see me any more until you are saying: 'Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord!'" It is the same verse that the faithful repeat in the hymn of the Sanctus in the sacrifice of the Mass. In today's Psalm we give thanks to God for His enduring love (verses 2-4), and for coming to us as our deliverer and Savior in our time of distress (verses 13-15). We are also reminded that through God's divine plan Jesus is "the stone the builders rejected" who "has become the cornerstone" of our faith and we rejoice in this "the day the LORD has made" for the salvation and good fortune the Lord has granted us (verses 22-24). Jesus identified Himself as the "stone the builders rejected" in Mt 21:42 as did St. Peter in his homily before the religious leaders of the Jewish Sanhedrin in Acts 4:11-12 when he said: He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven by which we can be saved (also see Rom 9:33; Eph 2:20 and 1 Pt 2:6-8).

The Second Reading Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 ~ St. John's Vision of the Resurrected Christ
9 I, John, your brother who share with you the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus, found myself on the island called Patmos because I proclaimed God's word and gave testimony to Jesus. 10 I was caught up in spirit on the Lord's Day and heard behind me a voice as loud as a trumpet, 11a which said, "Write on a scroll what you see ...
12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and when I turned, I saw seven gold lampstands 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest.
17 When I caught sight of him, I fell down at his feet as though dead. He touched me with his right hand and said, "Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, 18 the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld. 19 Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards.

Our passage is from the Prologue to the Book of Revelation. In St. John's vision during his exile on the island of Patmos, he saw the Resurrected Christ dressed as the priestly king of the heavenly Sanctuary, wearing an ankle-length robe with a gold sash around his chest. Jesus' long robe and sash around his waist symbolizes His priesthood (Ex 28:4, 39; 29:5; Zec 3:4), but instead of the embroidered sash of a priest, His sash is gold, a symbol of His Davidic royalty. St. John has the vision of a prophet. God's prophets were His prosecuting attorneys; speaking God's words to the people and bringing warning of God's impending judgment. It is the visions of the coming judgment that St. John is commanded to Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards (verse 19). St. John has seen the resurrected, transfigured Jesus Christ...the incarnate Glory of God! See the Agape Bible study on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John.

Revelation 1:9 ~ I, John, your brother who share with you the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus...
This is the fourth time St. John's name is mentioned in the first chapter. John's name will be given five times in the book (Rev 1:1, 2, 4, 9 and 22:8). John calls himself our "brother" because we are brothers (and sisters) in the blood of Christ. Covenants create families. This is why in the Old and in the New Testament only one word is used for "brother" no matter what the degree of relationship. In the New Testament it is the Greek word "adelphos", meaning "brother from the womb", but it is the same word used for brothers in the same family (John and James Zebedee), for kinsmen (the kinsmen of Jesus), for the disciples and apostles (Acts 1:15-16), and for members of the nation of Judah and the Israelites of the Galilee (Acts 2:37). Therefore, when this word is used to refer to Jesus' kinsmen it is wrong to assume that Jesus had natural brothers and sisters.

Revelation 1:9b ~ found myself on the island called Patmos because I proclaimed God's word and gave testimony to Jesus.
Patmos is an island off the coast of Turkey, thirty-five miles from the city of Miletus on the coast. It is a rocky, crescent shaped, volcanic island ten miles long and six miles wide at its widest point. John was exiled to the island of Patmos because of his apostolic activity. Christianity was not one of the "approved" religions of the Roman state. Christians refused to sacrifice to the Roman Emperor. Such a refusal amounted to treason. But it is interesting how John phrases the reason for his imprisonment. He doesn't say it is because of his own actions but because God has spoken and Jesus has testified. The testimony of Jesus Christ determines the march of history.

Revelation 1:10 ~ I was caught up in spirit on the Lord's Day and heard behind me a voice as loud as a trumpet ...
The Greek phrase for "in spirit" is egenomen en Pneumati (IBGE, vol. 4, page 657). This is technical prophetic language (see Mt 22:43; Num 11:25; 2 Sam 23:2; and Ez 2:2; 3:24). In 2 Pt 1:20-21, St. Peter wrote: No prophecy ever came from human initiative. When people spoke for God it was the Holy Spirit that moved them. In this moment John's dark cell walls faded away and an entirely other kind of reality open up. John, the spirit-filled Apostle, is admitted to the heavenly council-chamber just as Isaiah had been admitted 800 years earlier (Is 6:1-10).

It is the same day of the week as the Resurrection and the day set aside entirely to worship God in the Christian communities. The origin of the term "the Lord's Day" goes back to the first Sabbath when God rested from Creation (Gen 2:2-3). The original Sabbath was the prototype of the "Day of the Lord," the Day of Judgment and re-birth. The weekly Sabbath of the Old Testament (on Saturday, the 7th day of Creation and therefore the 7th day of the week) looked forward in time to the Final Day of the Lord when Yahweh gathered the people together for judgment, forgiveness, and the proclamation of the King's Word. The New Covenant creation required a new Sabbath, "the Lord's Day," Sunday, the day of the Resurrection and the 2nd great Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit came to fill and indwell the Church. Since Sunday is also the day God began creation in Genesis chapter 1, it is both the first day and the eighth day. The Lord's Day, Sunday, is the day of the New Creation in Christ Jesus.

We can compare the concept of the Old Testament "Lord's Day" to the celebration of the Mass. For us it is a Day of Judgment and forgiveness. We come before God's throne to be forgiven and restored, to hear His Word and to be reunited to Him in the Eucharist. In the worship of the Mass we are all, like St. John, caught up to the throne room of God in the heavenly Sanctuary...we are all, in the celebration of the Mass, in the Spirit.

and heard behind me a voice as loud as a trumpet... Trumpets are mentioned more in Revelation than in any other book of the Bible. They are usually associated with the "Last Things," with the revelation of God, and judgment. It is interesting that the Glory-Cloud, the most basic Biblical image for God's presence and His divine judgment, is generally associated with three other images: the Spirit, the Day (or light, since the light of day was originally born from the light of the Cloud) and the Voice of God, which often sounded like a trumpet (see Ex 19:16-19: especially verse 18: Yahweh had descended on it (the mountain of Sinai) in the form of fire. The smoke (cloud) rose like the smoke from a furnace. And the whole mountain shook violently. Louder and louder grew the trumpeting.

Revelation 1:11a ~ which said, "Write on a scroll what you see ...
John was commanded to write down his visions in a book; that book is the Book of Revelation.

Revelation 1:12-13 ~ Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and when I turned, I saw seven gold lampstands 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest.

These verses contain the only physical description of Jesus in the New Testament. Notice that at first John hears and then he sees. At the end of John's revelation in Rev 22:8 John will tell us again: I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. Perhaps the verbal revelation is necessary to understand the visual revelation. The words "son of man" in verse 13 refer to someone who appeared in human form. St. John's vision also recalls Daniel's vision of one who looks like a "son of man" but is the Divine Messiah who ascends to God to receive dominion and kingship over all nations of the earth in Dan 7:13-14. Jesus used "Son of Man" as His favorite title for Himself to stress His humanity, but He also used it as a unique link to Daniel's vision of the glorified Messiah receiving all power and authority from the Father. Jesus quoted from Daniel's vision of the divine Messiah at His trial which led the Sanhedrin to charge Him with blasphemy. Daniel's prophecy of this vision is fulfilled in John's vision of the glorified Christ as High Priest, Davidic king and prophet/ judge.
I saw seven gold lampstands ... There was a single golden lamp-stand with seven lamps in the Holy Place in the Sanctuary and later in the Jerusalem Temple of Jesus' time. It was supposed to be a copy of the lampstand in the heavenly Sanctuary (Ex 25:39-40). But in his vision John sees seven golden lamp-stands. John is seeing the heavenly Sanctuary, and he sees seven lamp-stands that are connected to each other in the Person who stands in their midst. Jesus Christ is the one Lamp-stand who unites the seven lamp-stands...Jesus, who called Himself the "Light of the world" (Jn 8:12) is surrounded by Light! What an amazing vision of Christ it must have been...clothed as the High Priest (Ex 28:4-5) and also as a King (see 1 Mac 10:89). John's vision recalls the Prophet Daniel's vision in Dan 10:5-11 ~ I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. His body also was like beryl, His face like lightening, His eyes were like flaming torches... (NJB). According to the first century AD Jewish priest/historian, Flavius Josephus, the priest wore the linen garment and sacerdotal sash around his chest when he was at rest from his duties (Antiquities of the Jews, iii.vii.2). Also see the description of the High Priest's vestments in Lev 16:4ff and in Sir 50:1-21/23.

Revelation 1:17-19 ~ Prologue Conclusion
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead, but he laid his right hand on me and said, 'Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, 18 the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld. 19 Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards.
What would your reaction be to such a vision of the glorified Christ? The prophet Daniel had a similar experience and his response was: I fell into a deep sleep with my face to the ground. Then behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees..... And when He had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling (Dan 10:9-11 NJB). And then the person in the vision spoke words of love and encouragement to Daniel... "Do not be afraid ..." (Dan 10:19 NJB). These are the same words Jesus spoke to John in Revelation 1:17 as He laid His hand gently upon John to comfort him.

Revelation 1:18 ~ ... I am the first and the last, 18 the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.
A more literal translation is: It is I, the Alpha and the Omega; I am the Living One. I was dead and look, I am alive for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and of Hades. This is the second time Jesus as identified Himself to St. John as the "Alpha and Omega" (see 1:8). The Old Testament references to the phrase "Alpha and Omega", "the first and the last" are found in the Book of Isaiah in the second section of the book. This part of Isaiah is often called "The Book of the Consolation of Israel" in which Isaiah prophesizes the coming of the Messiah and the salvation of God's people:

Jesus also refers to another Old Testament title for God in this passage: "the Living One": For what creature of flesh could possibly live after hearing, as we have heard, the voice of the Living God speaking from the heart of the fire? (Dt 5:26). Also see Josh 3:10; Ps 42:2; and Jer 10:10. St. Paul was probably thinking of this title in his letter to the Romans when he wrote: [Christ]...having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death is no longer master over Him (Rom 6:9).

I hold the keys to death and the netherworld. A more literal translation is: I hold the keys of death and of Hades. The Greek word Hades means the "abode of the dead." The Hebrew word is Sheol, the grave but also a place of purification. We use the Latin word Purgatory. The Roman Empire claimed to have all authority, even over life and death/the grave. But Christ in His resurrection has defeated sin and death. He is now the Lord of all Lords, and He holds the keys to life and death/the grave; it is an authority He also gave to St. Peter, His Vicar, and to Peter's successors in Matthew 16:16-20. With these keys, the Church, led by Christ's Vicar (Prime Minister) will have the mission of rescuing the elect from death's dominion (from the death of the soul) to lead the souls of the righteous into the Kingdom of Heaven just as Jesus rescued the dead souls trapped in Sheol (the grave) after His resurrection (see 1 Pt 3:18-19 and Jn 5:26-28; for Old Testament references for Sheol see Gen 37:35; Num 16:33; Dt 5:26; 52:6; Is 14:9; 38:18; 1Sam 2:6, 8:19; Ps 6:5; 16:10-11; 49:15; 88:4-5, 11-12; 89:6; 115:17; Ez 32:17-32; Amos 9:2; 2 Mac 12:38f; Wis 3:4-5 and CCC 633).

Revelation 1:19 ~ Now write down all that you see and what are of the present happenings, and what is still to come.
John received three commands to write:

  1. To write about what he sees
  2. To write about the present happenings
  3. To write about what is still to come

There is perhaps a parallel here to how Jesus first identified Himself to John as "the One who was and who is and who is to come, the almighty" (Rev 1:8). John's obedience to that command is the entirety of the Book of Revelation that records the events of John's present in the first century AD, past events in Salvation History, and what is still yet to come!

The Gospel Reading John 20:19-31 ~ The Resurrected Christ Visits the Apostles
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive [the] Holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." 24 Thomas, called Didymus [twin], one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." 26 Now a week [Greek text = okto = eight meaning eight days]* later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "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 [become not unbelieving]." 28 Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God! [the Lord of me and the God of me]." 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
* the ancients counted without the concept of a zero-place value, therefore the days from the first day of the week that was Jesus' Resurrection to the next first day of the week (Sunday to Sunday) is counted as eight days. It is for this same reason that the Bible records that Jesus was in the tomb three days from Friday to Sunday, and St. John recorded that from Jesus' dinner in Bethany on Saturday to the Passover on Thursday was six days in Jn 12:1. [..] = literal Greek translation.

It is Sunday afternoon of the day of Jesus' Resurrection. The next day for the Jews begins at sundown, so evening is in the mid-to-late afternoon. The time is probably about 3 PM, the time of the afternoon hour of prayer, the beginning of the afternoon liturgical worship service at the Temple, and the hour of Jesus' death on the Cross on Friday. The disciples are afraid because the Sanhedrin may arrest them, try them for blasphemy, and condemn them to death just as they condemned Jesus. In their hour of fear, the Lord comes to His Apostles supernaturally. Locked doors cannot stop Him.

Jesus' greeting to the disciples, "Peace be with you," is the customary greeting of the Jews. These are the very words the Priest uses as he stands in "persona Christi", in the Person of Christ, as he greets the congregation. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord, In this greeting Jesus has reassured the Apostles, who must have been feeling ashamed of their conduct since His arrest on Friday, and He has lovingly reestablished the intimacy they had previously enjoyed with Him. He shows them His wounded hands and His pierced side to dispel any impression that they are seeing a ghost or imposter. They are truly seeing the risen, glorified body of Jesus Christ. For those concerned with the question of whether the nails were in Jesus' hands or wrists, Fr. Raymond Brown (The Gospel According to John) points out that both the Greek and Hebrew words for "hand" includes the wrist as part of the hand.

John 20:21-22 ~ Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
With these words, Jesus pronounces the ordination of the Magisterium of the Church. He is sending them with the power and the authority of God the Father (verse 21). Jesus' words "Receive the Holy Spirit" in the Greek text is missing the article "the." He gives to His Apostles the gift that the rest of the New Covenant Church will receive at the Feast of Pentecost 50 days later. But why does Jesus breathe on them? What is the significance of this act? It is an action that recalls the breath of life God breathed into Adam and Eve in the first Creation. In Hebrew and in Greek the word for "breath" or "wind" is the same word as "spirit." God first breathed into Adam to give him physical life and now Christ breathes His Spirit into the Apostles to give them spiritual life. He is sending them forth, in the power of the Holy Spirit; He who will make all things "new" again just as He did in the first creation (see Gen 1:2). The prophet Ezekiel envisioned this day when he wrote of the Messianic restoration of Israel: He said to me, 'Prophesy to the spirit [breath]; prophesy, son of man and say to the spirit [breath], "the Lord Yahweh says this: come from the four winds, breath; breathe on these dead, so that they come to life!" I prophesied as he had ordered me, and the breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet, a great, an immense army (Ez 37:9-10 NJB). Man, formally dead to sin has been resurrected in Christ and this faithful remnant of the Old Israel has become the nucleus of the New Israel, the New Covenant Universal [catholic] Church that will become an immense army of disciples converting the world through the spread of the Gospel.

John 20:23 ~ "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. If you forgive anyone's sins they are forgiven; if you retain anyone's sins, they are retained."
The Sacraments of the Church are visible signs instituted by Christ to confer grace. Jesus is instituting the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation). Under the Old Covenant the sinner placed his hands on the animal, confesses his sins before the priest, and the animal died in his place. Now Christ is the Lamb of sacrifice but we still must have confession and repentance before sins can be forgiven and communion with God restored. In verse 23 the priests of the New Covenant carry the Son of God's authority to forgive or retain sins. The concept of private confession of sins has never been a part of the sacramental system of the Old or New Covenant. Even though it is a healthy spiritual practice to confess our shortcomings to God in our daily prayers, it is necessary to bring those venial sins (unintentional sins) before the Lord in the Penitential rite of the Mass in order to receive forgiveness, and any mortal sins must be confessed to an ordained priest of the New Covenant Church, who is a successor of the first ministerial priesthood in Christ, to whom we confess as though we are confessing to Christ Himself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that Jesus is the physician of our souls and our bodies. He both healed the sick and forgave their sins, and He has willed His Church, in the power of God the Holy Spirit, to continue His work of healing and salvation. In this sacrament the sinner places himself before the merciful judgment of God who heals and purifies hearts and souls. CCC#1422: Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion. Also see CCC# 1423-1498.

So you may ask the question, how do we really know Jesus meant for us to confess to a human priest and not just to Him? You will agree that in verse 22, in speaking to the Apostles, Jesus has given the Church the power to forgive individual sins and the power to retain individual sins. How can the Church exercise this power to make decisions about particular sins unless those sins are openly confessed to Christ through His priesthood? We have to specifically confess specific sins!

John 20:24-25 ~ Thomas, called Didymus [twin], one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
There are only eleven Apostles at this time, but St. John refers to the "Twelve" as a "perfect unity" of Apostles. Poor St Thomas is always remembered for this remark which must have come from his discouragement and his fear. He seems not to be remembered for his courageous statement in John 11:16 when he declared he was prepared to die with Jesus, as he was indeed martyred for Christ. According to the history of the Church, Thomas was martyred at the altar of his Church in India. He had faithfully carried the Gospel to what was then the end of the earth!

How many times have we been guilty of the same unbelief when we reject the teaching of Mother Church in favor of secular values and morals? How many Catholics in government have stated that Church must be separated from State, and since the law of the State allows abortion, how can they stand against it? Do they need to see the nails in His hands? How many of us question the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the perpetual virginity of His blessed mother...do we need to see the wound in His side? To believe in the name of Jesus Christ is to accept all that He taught and to be obedient to the teaching of His Church. There is no such animal as a "liberal Catholic." Liberal and conservative are political terms. There are orthodox, true doctrine Catholics or there are bad Catholics. Catholicism is not a cafeteria style religion. It is an all or nothing religion. Place your finger in His wounds and like Thomas cry out "My Lord and My God!

John 20:26-28 ~ Now a week later [Greek text = okto = eight meaning eight days]* later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "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." 28 Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!" [the literal Greek is become not unbelieving and the Lord of me and the God of me.].
Eight days from the previous Sunday, which was the day of the Resurrection, makes this day the next Sunday (as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place value). The 7th day of Creation was Saturday. Sunday is both the 1st and the 8th day. The number 8 in the symbolism of numbers represented salvation, regeneration and redemption. It became the number of the New Covenant people. Most early churches were built 8 sides; this includes the early church that was formed at Peter's house in Capernaum and all the Byzantine Churches of the 4th-6th centuries. Whenever archaeologists find an ancient foundation that has 8 sides they know they have found a Christian Church marking a holy site associated with Christ.

Once again Jesus did not use the doors to enter. This testimony proves that Jesus was not prematurely pronounced dead and later revived. He is not bound by the laws of physics! The literal Greek become not unbelieving in verse 27 gives us a better sense of Thomas' spiritual condition. He had not yet fallen into unbelief but his doubt about the Resurrection put him in danger of falling into unbelief. What you believe matters! Thomas responds to Jesus' challenge by acknowledging Jesus as His Lord and God. The literal translation is "the Lord of me and the God of me." Both Peter and Thomas knew how to humble themselves and to repent. Judas was lost because he would not repent and turn to Christ. Thomas' profession of faith is one of the strongest statements affirming the deity of Jesus in Sacred Scripture!

John 20:29 ~ Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
In Hebrews 11:1 it is written that Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen (NJB). Thomas' faith would have had more merit if he had accepted the testimony of the other Apostles instead of the exceptional proof he received through seeing and touching Jesus' wounds. St Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the preaching of Christ (Rom 10:17). It is that preaching of Christ that is passed from the Apostles down to us in the Church today. When we accept the testimony of the Apostles, we must not only believe but we must practice what we believe. Jesus' statement Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed is a benediction our Lord has pronounced on all the future generations of believers!

John 20:30-31 ~ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
John testifies that there are other signs are not recorded in this book but in other books. Notice that John uses the word "signs" instead of "miracles." The use of "signs" is a major theme of St. John's Gospel. Jesus performed supernatural acts that had greater significance beyond the miracle. Each miracle was a sign that pointed to a theological truth, and John built his Gospel around 7 theologically significant public signs that point to Jesus' divinity and His claim that He is the Messiah:

The Seven Public Signs of Jesus in St. John's Gospel
#1 2:1-11 The sign of water turned to wine at the wedding at Cana
#2 4:46-54 The healing of the official's son
#3 5:1-9 The healing of the paralytic
#4 6:1-14 The multiplication of the loaves to feed the 5,000
#5 9:1-41 The healing of the man who was born blind
#6 11:17-44 The raising of Lazarus from the dead
#7 20:1-10 The Resurrection of Jesus

*Jesus performed 8 miracles in John's Gospel, 6 of which are not recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. The 8th miracle is a private revelation for the Apostles when Jesus walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee and calmed the storm.

Jesus' final, and most significant public "sign" of His divinity is of course, His Resurrection, the key event of Christian faith:

  1. It is the fulfillment of His promise that He would rise from the dead, therefore verifying that everything He told us about Himself is true: He is the eternal Son of God. We can be confident, therefore, that He will accomplish everything else that He has promised.
  2. Jesus' bodily Resurrection provides us with the evidence that He is the living Christ, not just a false prophet, or a ghost, or an imposter. He is the ruler of God's eternal kingdom and our personal Savior.
  3. We are assured of our own bodily resurrection. Death is not the end-Jesus has given us the promise of eternal life.
  4. Jesus' divine power that has brought Him back to life is now available to us to supernaturally by bringing our spiritually dead selves back to life in Christ.
  5. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis for the Church's witness to the world that Jesus is exactly who He says He is and that He can fulfill all He has promised!

Finally, Christ's Resurrection - and the risen Christ Himself - is the principle and source of our future resurrection: 'Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep...for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.' The risen Christ lives in the hearts of His faithful while they await that fulfillment. In Christ, Christians 'have tasted...the powers of the age to come' and their lives are swept up by Christ into the heart of divine life, so that they may 'live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.'
CCC# 655

Catechism references:

Acts 5:12 (CCC 699)

Psalm 118:14 (CCC 1808); 118:22 (CCC 587, 756)

Revelation 1:17 (CCC 612); 1:18 (CCC 625, 633, 635, 2854)

John 20:19 (CCC 575, 643, 645, 659); 20:20 (CCC 645); 20:21-23 (CCC 1087, 1120, 1441); 20:22 (CCC 730, 788, 1287); 20:23 (CCC 1461, 2839); 20:24-27 (CCC 644); 20:26 (CCC 645, 659); 20:27 (CCC 645); 20:28 (CCC 448); 20:30 (CCC 514); 20:31 (CCC 442, 514)

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.