On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together. They had locked the doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Jesus came in and stood among them. He said, ‘May peace be with you!’ Then he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were very happy when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘May peace be with you! The Father has sent me. So now I am sending you.’ He then breathed on them. He said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ Thomas was one of the disciples. He was also called Didymus. He was not with the other disciples when Jesus came. So they told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘First I must see the nail marks in his hands. I must put my finger where the nails were. I must put my hand into his side. Only then will I believe.’ A week later, Jesus’ disciples were in the house again. Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came in and stood among them. He said, ‘May peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen me but still have believed.’ Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples. They are not written down in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. If you believe this, you will have life because you belong to him.
”On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together. They had locked the doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Jesus came in and stood among them. He said, ‘May peace be with you!’ Then he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were very happy when they saw the Lord.“ (cf. verse 19-20)
The exact time, which is actually unusual in the Gospel, wants to connect the events of the evening with the events of the morning. In the morning - that was the day of Jesus' resurrection. And this event of the morning now reaches its climax in the evening. Despite closed doors - and indeed: "out of fear", as it explicitly says - Jesus enters into their midst. This appearance of Jesus frees the disciples from fear and sorrow. From now on, we no longer hear that they lock themselves in out of fear.
Jesus' greeting of peace, and with it the certainty that He really is, makes the fear in the hearts of the disciples give way to joy. They rejoice when they see the Lord. Thus the greeting of peace has become the Easter greeting - until today.
Jesus shows them his stigmata on his hands and side to prove: He is the same Jesus as before the suffering. The word "that they saw him" is actually the redemption of the promise Jesus made before his suffering: "You will see me again" and "Your heart will rejoice". At this point we now find the confirmation of these words of Jesus: we are also celebrating Mercy Sunday today. And it is precisely here, in the wounds that Jesus shows to his disciples, that the root of this mercy lies: St. Faustine informs us that blood and water as sources of mercy flow from the heart, from the side of Jesus. So these stigmata are actually the source, the figurative expression of God's infinite mercy. Here we see what God has risked everything for us out of mercy. These wounds stand for his whole, also inner woundedness, and especially the heart wound points to his wounding in the depth of the heart, in the innermost centre of the person. For the heart is the innermost centre of the person. Here lies the source of mercy. So it is precisely the page that looks into the innermost centre of Jesus' person, his innermost suffering, the expression of his compassion for us. Jesus' words to Sister Faustine: "Never in all eternity will a man be able to fathom the depth of my mercy" resonate here in this account.
"Again Jesus said, ‘May peace be with you! The Father has sent me. So now I am sending you.’“ (cf. verse 21)
Jesus once again speaks peace to his disciples and wants to express that peace in the future is more than just a greeting or a blessing. At that time, "Shalom" was the normal greeting for Jews, and it still is today. But now, as Jesus' Easter greeting, it will be more than just a greeting and a blessing. Peace will be an inner gift that is to have an outward effect, as it were. It has become, as Paul writes, one of the fruits of the Spirit: Peace, joy, love, patience. A peace that even when I am in the midst of an outward discord, rests in my depths. That is why Jesus said to the apostles: "When you enter a house, the first thing you say is, 'Peace to this house'". (Lk 10:5), that is, the Easter greeting. And if children of peace dwell there and accept it, it will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.
The greeting of peace is therefore no longer just an ordinary greeting or a blessing, but an inner gift that is meant to have an outward effect. We notice this when we meet people who live in this inner peace with God and themselves. It becomes clear that this is not something made or trained, but the gift of the risen Lord. And this is what we should take seriously in the Eucharist when the priest says: "The peace of the Lord be with you always." Here this gift of peace is conveyed to us by the risen Lord who is present. We should therefore not simply hear this promise of the priest as a greeting, but consciously wait for it and respond: I consciously accept this peace of the risen Lord. Then we will experience that we can keep this inner peace in the midst of many turbulences of everyday life. That is a great grace, because if a person has to live in an inner discord, it has an improbable effect on the outside.
With his greeting, Jesus now also initiates the mission of the disciples. The present tense in the Greek: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" shows that now is the hour of the mission. It is not something that is yet to come or has already passed, but something that is now and will always be. It is always present. It is always the mission of Jesus, which he received from the Father, which is now the mission of the Church, i.e. our mission.
So the disciples now take over the mission that Jesus had from the Father. Jesus is concerned here with the transmission of authority and the transmission of his mission, which he had from the Father: to pass on salvation and redemption to the world. That is the mission and authority of Jesus. And to make the Lord present in the world and to continue his work of salvation is now the mission of the disciples. But peace precedes this. They need not be afraid. Jesus speaks to them: You may carry this Easter peace, this Easter victory within you.
"He then breathed on them. He said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’“ (cf. verse 22-23)
After the mission now follows the communication of the Spirit. The anointing of the Holy Spirit is the prerequisite for carrying out this mission. Just as Jesus was anointed in the Jordan and the voice of the Father sounded: "This is my beloved Son", so the disciples should now also receive the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the sending must now be followed by the communication of the Spirit. In the Greek it literally means "he blew in". Already in the Old Testament, blowing in means: transferring life. This is the breath, the breath of life, ruach, the Holy Spirit. In this way, the disciples share in the life of the risen Lord. He possessed the Holy Spirit in abundance and now transmits it to his disciples and thus also to us. It is the same Holy Spirit who guided Jesus.
The word of the remission of sins and of restraint is a great word of authority of the risen Lord, because that is what he came to do: to forgive sin. He has redeemed us from sin. That is why precisely the Sacrament of Penance is the Sacrament of the Risen Lord. Unfortunately, today this great grace of the resurrection is almost forgotten! But we should see to it that we find our way back to this mighty sacrament of Easter and no longer neglect this great grace, for for this Christ became man. In order to give us this redemption from our sins, he took upon himself his bitter suffering.
"Thomas was one of the 12 disciples. He was also called Didymus. He was not with the other disciples when Jesus came. So they told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘First I must see the nail marks in his hands. I must put my finger where the nails were. I must put my hand into his side. Only then will I believe.’“ (cf. verse 24-25)
John wants to strengthen our faith with his Gospel. That is the goal. And that is why he brings something at the end of the whole account that must seem very important to him, namely this passage about the doubting Thomas. Already in John 14:5, Thomas says to the Lord, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How then shall we know the way?" (Jn 14:5) So even in this passage we sense a serious struggle in Thomas. He wants to go with the Lord, but he does not know how.
And now the other disciples testify to him: "We have seen the Lord". The Greek word "horao" (οραω), does not simply mean a seeing, but always expresses a manifestation of God. It is a revelation, a perception and a recognition that is more than just "seeing someone or something". So they have seen the Lord means: they have recognised him as the Risen One. And the word in the perfect tense, a past tense, which wants to say: They have seen him and recognised him and what they have seen is now still really there in them, it is also present and future, something lasting.
But Thomas now goes further, because he says to himself: Eyes can deceive. If Jesus is really risen, then he must be touchable. This is actually a logical consideration of Thomas. So Thomas is not a doubter out of a craving for criticism. There are critics who doubt everything because they always think they know better. But Thomas is a doubter out of need. There is a difference. Neither the disciples nor the Lord are indignant with him, because he is genuinely struggling for the truth.
"A week later, Jesus’ disciples were in the house again. Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came in and stood among them. He said, ‘May peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ “ (cf. verse 26-28)
At this point, Sunday already stands out in comparison to the Sabbath. Just as Jesus' first encounter with the disciples took place on Sunday, the second encounter with the disciples eight days later also takes place on Sunday, the first day of the week. The seventh day, the Sabbath, is the day of eternal rest in the creation account. The first day of the creation account is the new creation. And so the day of resurrection is Sunday, the day of new creation, of new life. That is why we celebrate Sunday and why the Lord rose on Sunday and appeared to the disciples on the evening of the same day and again a week later on a Sunday.
What is interesting about this second appearance of Jesus is that the doors are closed again, but there is no longer any mention of fear. For the disciples have already seen Jesus. Fear and anxiety were taken away from them, i.e. the Risen One had already effected something in them.
It is now important for Thomas that Jesus stands in their midst again. And Jesus - this is wonderfully described - turns to Thomas. He is concerned with the individual in his special situation. That was true then, but it is also true for us today. Jesus does not reject Thomas. He does not criticise him: "Why don't you believe? No. He takes him seriously in his need. That is a wonderful revelation of God. He takes him seriously in his questions. He turns to him as an individual, although all the others are there too. Jesus knows his need and Thomas can experience it: The Lord knows me completely. He experiences: Jesus responds to my need without criticising me, without questioning me in any way. That is this wonderful revelation that applies to us just as it does to Thomas.
Thomas then experiences something similar to Nathanael. When Philip announces to Nathanael - who also doubted - "We have found Jesus of Nazareth", Nathanael replies out of doubt: "From Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?" (Jn 1:46) Nazareth is not in the Scriptures, so surely the Messiah cannot come from Nazareth. In this situation, Philip has no choice but to say, "Come and see!" And indeed, despite his doubts, Nathanael goes along. Jesus sees him coming towards him and says: "There comes a genuine Israelite, a man without falsehood" (Jn 1:47), i.e. an honestly inquiring Israelite who searches the Scriptures, really seeks the truth and thus the Messiah. And to the surprised question of Nathanael: "How do you know me?" Jesus answers: "Even before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree." (Jn 1:48) Similar to Thomas in today's Gospel, Nathanael also experiences: This Jesus knows my inner need, my search for truth, my search for the Messiah. He even recognised me under the fig tree. Perhaps Nathanel had experienced something very personal under the fig tree that only he knew about and therefore only God could know about. So Nathaniel was convinced: This Jesus knows my need. He reaches out to me. Only he, God, can know my inner being. And Thomas has the same experience: Jesus knows my innermost need and he approaches me. Even if we think Jesus is far away, God is always there.
Jesus allows Thomas what his faith now needs, namely touch. In Greek it is again literally not "be" as in German, but "become": ginu (γινου): "Do not become unbelieving, but believing". This "become" is quite decisive here, for it shows: Thomas is not an unbelieving Thomas, but he wants to become a believer. He is, as it were, in between. He can now become both, either unbelieving or believing. Unbelief in the New Testament is not a lack of faith, but a conscious rejection of faith. So Thomas, who is now allowed to touch Jesus, to see and hear him, can now become unbelieving - that is, consciously reject faith - or believing. He must now make a decision. And all that Jesus has revealed to him - namely: I know your need, even though you have not seen me, and I respond to it - is enough for Thomas to make his wonderful confession, "My Lord and my God!" This answer of Thomas is the confession of the Christian par excellence.
"Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen me but still have believed.’Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples. They are not written down in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. If you believe this, you will have life because you belong to him." (cf. verse 29-31)
"Because you have seen me," the Greek literally says, "you have become a believer." And here again the perfect tense is used to make it clear: Thomas did not become a believer for this one moment, but permanently.
The beatitude of those who have not seen and yet believe applies to us: Blessed are those who were not there 2000 years ago, who have not seen him with earthly eyes or touched him with their hands and yet will believe. This is Jesus looking away from Thomas, as it were, to all generations to come, to us.
The prologue of John's Gospel says: "In the beginning was the Word."(Jn 1:1) And this Word now goes into the world through the witnesses: "But these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name." (Jn 20:31) So the Word goes into the world through the witnesses - through Thomas and the other apostles, and eventually through us - and causes faith. The Word brings about faith, not the miracles!
Thus, in John's Gospel, the beginning is connected to the end. Let us look at this Gospel again. It has a lot to say to us for our lives. ∎