SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 2, 42-47
1 Pt 1, 3-9
The event and the proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus question the life of the believer. Whoever believes in the Risen One experiences a grace that orientates and transforms his whole existence. This Sunday’s biblical readings summarise the nucleus of the Easter experience in two lines that intertwine and complement in a profound unity: the horizontal dimension of community life and the vertical dimension of faith and of spiritual joy that the experience of the God of life produces.
The first reading (Acts 2, 42-47) is a description of this new way of “living” and “living together” that emerges from the faith in the Lord’s Resurrection and that constitutes the Christian community. The description of that first church that Luke offers us, even though he certainly presents some idealistic features, is very vivid and provoking. The text belongs to the type of accounts known as “summaries”, in which Luke offers in the Acts of the Apostles brief summaries of the life of the church, with the aim of indicating some moments of transition and offering a pause for reflection to the reader about the meaning of the events related. The summary of Acts 2, 42-47 is structured based on four elements constituted as the basic columns of the life of the church in Jerusalem.
(a) The teaching (didache) of the apostles refers to the apostolic preaching in its entirety, normative and fundamental for the whole church.
(b) Communion (koinonia) indicates the spiritual unity existing among the believers as consequence of their faith in the Risen Lord (cf. Acts 4, 32), which is manifested externally in solidarity, sharing of material goods and in total socio-economic equality. The term “koinonia”, which appears in the work of Luke only in Acts 2, 42, is not reduced to a communion of spiritual ideals or to a gathering of the believers during a cult, but it emphasizes solidarity and economic equality that spring up from the believers, who are of “one heart and one mind” (cf. Acts 2, 44; 4, 32.34). They give up even their own goods, not for the desire to be poor, but with the purpose that nobody among the brethren will be poor. The “koinonia” is not so much an ideal of renunciation or of voluntary poverty, but the expression of a concrete and realistic charity (cf. Acts 2, 45; 4, 32).
(c) The breaking of bread is an expression that, with all probability, indicates the Eucharist, which was celebrated during the common meals in their homes (cf. Acts 20, 7; 1 Cor 10, 16). Luke emphasizes that they were meals celebrated with “joy for having believed” (cf. Acts 16, 34) and with the conviction of the Lord’s presence in the midst of his people gathered for the Eucharist (cf. Lk 24, 31.35).
(d) The prayers refer most probably to the practice of prayer in the Temple of Jerusalem at fixed hours (three times a day) according to Jewish custom and as it is attested in the Didache (Did 8; cf. Acts 3, 1). As the pious Jews in Jerusalem did it, so the Christians were also going to the Temple daily. In effect, Luke says: “they went to the Temple area every day” (Acts 2, 46). The first Christians insert themselves in the religious centre of Israel, following the example of Jesus (cf. Lk 19, 47) and of the Apostles (cf. Lk 24, 53). There, they “praise God” (Acts 2, 47), Luke affirms. The joyful praise is also a feature of the church as place and witness of the time of salvation. The first Christians praised God in the Temple as well as in their homes, with which prayer encompasses the whole life of the believers.
The second reading (1 Pt 1, 3-9) is a kind of opening hymn for the whole of the first letter of Peter, whose central theme is the profound joy of the believer for the inheritance that he has received in the baptismal font and that will lead him to the full participation in the Kingdom. The starting point of the life of faith is the baptismal “regeneration” that fills us with “new hope”, thanks to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (v. 3). The point of arrival is “the salvation which stands ready to be revealed in the last days” (v. 5), “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 7), that is to say, the final manifestation of the Lord in glory. Between the starting point and the point of arrival the way of faith of the believer, marked by darkness, pain, solitude and trials of life, unfolds (v. 6). However, the believers, still in the midst of difficulties of earthly life, are “filled with joy” (v. 6), since they live in communion of love and faith with him who has conquered death and sin, “whom they love, without seeing him; and without seeing, believe in him, rejoicing with inexpressible joy touched with glory” (v. 8).
The gospel (Jn 20, 19-31) presents the Resurrection of Jesus to us as an encounter with the Risen One, at the same time showing the way that the first witnesses of the Risen One went through to arrive at the faith. The composition of the text is very simple. It is composed of two scenes (vv. 19-23 and vv. 26-29) joined by the explanation of vv. 24-25 about the absence of Thomas, and a general conclusion (vv. 30-31). The two scenes begin with the same indication about the disciples gathered together and in both Jesus presents himself with a greeting of peace (vv. 19.26).
The first scene (vv. 19-23) gives us an indication of time (it is the first day of the week) and a spatial indication (the doors of the place are closed). The reference to the first day of the week, that is, the day after the Sabbath (Sunday), indicates the day of the Resurrection of the Lord, which is prolonged and actualised in the Sunday celebrations of the ecclesial community. The indication of the closed doors aims at recalling the fear of the disciples, who do not believe yet and live enclosed in their fear. At the same time, it is a narrative element that will serve to manifest the new corporal condition of Jesus who will present himself in the place. Jesus will pass through both barriers: the closed exterior doors and the inner fear of the disciples.
In spite of their fear and incredulity, the disciples are together, united, which in the narration seems to be a necessary condition for the encounter with the Risen One. Thomas, for example, only comes to believe truly when he finds himself united with the rest of the group. The faith in the Resurrection of the Lord is a communitarian and ecclesial reality from the beginning.
The text says that Jesus “came and stood among them” (v. 19). The “resurrection” is in fact a new coming of the Lord. The Risen Christ is not going, but comes in a new and complete way amidst his people. Thus it was promised and explained by Jesus before his passion: “I go away and I come back to you” (Jn 14, 28); within a short time, you will lose sight of me, but soon after that you shall see me again.” (Jn 16, 16)
The Risen One communicates four fundamental gifts to his disciples: peace, joy, mission and the Holy Spirit. Peace (shalom) and joy (járis) are found in the root of the experience of the Risen Lord, but they are not gifts given for egoistic and exclusive enjoyment, but in order that they may accompany and sustain the universal mission of the community. From now on, the group of disciples has one mission, the same as what the Son has received from the Father and which now becomes the mission of the Church also.
For the fulfilment of their mission, Jesus gives them the gift of the Spirit. In the text, the theme of the new creation stands out. Jesus, like God when he created man in Gn 2, 7, or like Ezekiel who invokes the breath of life on the dry bones in Ez 37, “breathed on them”. With the gift of the Spirit, the Risen Lord begins a new world. With the sending off of the disciples, a new Israel is also inaugurated, the people who believe in the Messiah and testify to the truth of his Resurrection. As new men and women, filled with the breath of the Spirit, the Christians should continue the mission of Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. The mission of the Church, which continues the work of Christ, realizes the renewal of humanity, rejecting sin and welcoming the repentant sinner who trusts in the word of Jesus.
The second scene (vv. 26-29) narrates an experience similar to the first, only, it happened eight days later. This time, Thomas is present, one of the disciples who was not there the first time that the Lord appeared and who did not believe the testimony of the others who had seen the Lord (vv. 23-25). Thomas demands tangible proofs. He is ready to accept what the others say only if he succeeds to explain the mystery in sensible and rational way. His attitude represents the temptation of man at all times, that establishes and defines the conditions of faith, resisting to believe and trying to enclose God in the narrow ways of human reason.
This time, with Thomas being present together with the rest of the disciples, Jesus “comes” (v. 26). The fact that the account uses the verb “to come” in the present and not in the past is significant. With this verbal indication, Luke wants to make it clear that that experience is repeated time and again in the life of the Church. Again, Jesus communicates peace to his people as supreme gift of the Resurrection. He addresses himself particularly to Thomas, complying with admirable willingness to his incredulity, offering him as proof the ineffaceable signs of the passion, but also reproaching him for not having believed in the testimony of the other disciples and inviting him to stop being apistós (non-believer) and to become pistós (believer). Before the signs of God in history, it is necessary to know how to wait and to seek without rejection. Jesus reveals himself, sooner or later, to each one according to his own situation and personality.
The testimony of the others should have been sufficient in order for him to believe. It is for the attention of those who, in the future, will come to believe, always through the word, the mediation and the apostolic testimony of those who “saw” Jesus. He does not reveal himself to Thomas in a private and individual way, but in the midst of the community. It is within the ecclesial community – and not in another place – where all the Thomases of history will be able to see the Lord and profess his faith. After this experience, Thomas believes and professes his faith fully: “My Lord and my God.” (cf. Psalm 35, 23) Paradoxically the faith of Thomas that knew the more arduous way in order to be expressed, is a profession of an explicit and direct faith in the divinity of Jesus, the highest in the whole Gospel of John.
The scene concludes with a beatitude of Jesus in favour of the believers, which originally was the conclusion of the Gospel of John before Chapter 21 was added to it: “Blest are they who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20, 29) The Risen Jesus leads his disciples, and the future believers after them, to the maturity of faith: believing without seeing, basing only on the announcement of the first witnesses.
The conclusion (vv. 30-31) expresses the meaning and the scope of the Gospel of John (and of the other gospels also). Not all that Jesus did are recorded in them. They are not a biography, but testimonies of faith with a well-defined objective. Their aim is catechetical and they are totally orientated towards the growth of the faith of the disciples. Adherence to Christ, Messiah and Son of God, leads to the praxis of life. Through his writing, the evangelist wants to place us in the presence of Jesus, since the Christian faith is born of the encounter with his Person and nourished with the vital and personal communion with him, after the example of the first witnesses.
The image of the church which the reader of the Acts can deduce from Acts 2, 42-47
- A church that is aware of being the depository of the promises made to Israel and therefore, lives its condition as people of God in communion with the religion of the forebears. A church that is also faithful to Jesus and that, in imitation of him and after his example, goes to the Temple and celebrates the breaking of bread, but at the same time begins to distinguish itself from Judaism through some new values and a religious practice of its own.
- A church that is faithful to the gospel proclamation, to the apostolic teaching and to catechesis; faithful to fraternal love, solidary and active through the breaking of bread, to the Eucharist which is its centre and the vital source of its life.
- A church that is faithful to prayer as vital space of praise and gratitude, of trust and communion; a church that lives poverty as condition of solidarity and charity towards the poorest; a church that lives in constant joy that springs up from its faith in the Risen One, at the same time enjoying the approval of the people. A church that is open to Israel and to the entire world, which is the point of reference for the churches at the time of Luke and so it will be for the church of all times.