2nd Sunday of Easter
Reading I Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Reading II 1 John 5:1-6
Gospel John 20:19-31
Do we believe that God sent Jesus into the world, and that he suffered, was crucified, rose from the dead and that he is the second person of the Trinity? Does it make a difference if we believe or not believe? Does our belief lead to action or is our belief just an idea? I want us for a few minutes to put ourselves in the position of the disciples and let’s pretend that it is Holy Thursday and you are at the Passover meal with Jesus — the person you have been with for three years. Are you happy or sad? I think the answer is we are rejoicing and happy. We are eating together, breaking bread together, and it is wonderful. And do we believe? Of course we believe.
Then Thursday night when Jesus is taken away and arrested, and Friday morning when he is scourged, and beaten and spit upon and crucified — do we still believe he is the Son of God?
And how about Holy Saturday or when he is in the tomb? Or Easter Sunday morning? On Easter Sunday morning do his disciples believe that this Jesus is the Messiah? The women come and say, “The tomb is empty, I think they have taken him.” Some come and say, “We think he has been raised from the dead.” Did they believe, or not? Do we still believe, or not?
Our Gospel today takes place on Easter Sunday and they are all together in the Upper Room except for Thomas — and they are afraid. I don’t know how many locks they had on their doors, but they had as many as they could find because they were afraid that the Jews, or the Romans, were going to take them away and crucify them.
So when Jesus comes into their midst while the doors are locked and closed and he shows them his hands and his side and his feet — how do you think they felt? How would you have felt — happy and rejoicing, right?
This person we thought was the Messiah had just died and we questioned where he was. Now we see him and believe.
When they see Thomas later they say to him, “Thomas, guess what? A good thing has happened. We just saw Jesus.” Would we be any different than Thomas? Would we be any different than the apostles? If Jesus hadn’t come into the room and said, “I am here,” would they have believed? When Jesus came the first time he showed them his wounds and said “Peace be with you. I want things to be OK. I want you to be OK. I am alive. What I told you many times was that I was going to die and rise. That is what happened, and now I’m back.”
Then he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” That’s the institution of what we call the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is also called Divine Mercy Sunday. It is called Divine Mercy Sunday because we are to remember the divine mercy of God, and that it doesn’t matter what we do or what addictions we have. It doesn’t make any difference what sins we have committed because God so loves us, he will always, always forgive us — if only we ask in sincerity.
So Thomas comes into the room and the first thing that Jesus says is, “Thomas, put your finger here. Put your hand into my side. You believe because you’ve seen. Blessed are those who believe who haven’t seen.”
I don’t think there is anyone in this room, or in this country or anywhere in this world who has seen Jesus. So why do we believe? We believe because of what Scripture says. We believe because of the church’s tradition in our faith. But does it make a difference that we believe? One of the things that Jesus said to the disciples is, “Get off your butt and start doing something.”
To believe is great, but the purpose of believing is to do something with it. The purpose of believing in God is to go into action, it’s to live the life he lived, it’s to touch each other, it’s to make a difference, it is to wash each other’s feet. The question we always have to ask ourselves is, “Are we?” And the answer probably is, “Yes.” And the next question is, “Are we washing enough feet?”
There is a story, which is really an urban legend, about a family that lived in this forest in Scotland. They lived by themselves and they were very, very poor. One day a nobleman’s son came into the forest. He was exploring and just looking around. While in that forest he got into this muck that turned out to be quicksand. Soon he found himself incapacitated, he couldn’t move and he couldn’t get out.
He said to himself, “I’m going to die. But at least I can scream. No one may hear me but I am going to scream.” And he did. To his surprise, the son of this poor family heard him cry and he ran into the forest and saved the son of this wealthy man. And the young man went home.
Within a few days this fancy, fancy carriage appeared in front of this poor man’s house. This nobleman got out of his carriage and the poor man came out of his house and the rick man said, “I just wanted to come and thank you for what your son did for my son. If it were not for your son — my son would be dead. I want to repay you and I want to give you some money.”
The poor man said, “I cannot accept any money. That wouldn’t be right. My son did what he was supposed to do.”
The nobleman said, “If your son is going to be anything like you, he is going to be a very wise man. What about this, what if I take your son with me and I pay for his education?”
And the poor man said, “Fine.”
Well, the poor man’s son became a very good student. Not only did he graduate from college, he became a medical doctor. Not only did he become a medical doctor, he became a very famous medical doctor.
Years later, this nobleman’s son, who is now older, was very sick and is dying. So, this nobleman went to this poor man’s son who is now a doctor and asked, “Can you help him?” The doctor said, “Yes.”
So the nobleman’s son went to him, and the poor man’s son, now the doctor — cured him. The poor man’s son was Sir Dr. Alexander Fleming and he is the one who developed penicillin. The nobleman’s son happened to be — Sir Winston Churchill.
The point of the story is that it is good to believe in God. But if we believe in God we also need to realize that there is an action that needs to take place. To say, “I am a Catholic and come to church,” and then be mean the rest of the week and you don’t help anybody, what does that mean? It means nothing.
For the disciples to be in the Upper Room and sit there and be worried did not accomplish anything other than maybe it comforted them a little bit. So the question we need to ask ourselves today is, “Do we believe?” And the fact that you are here today means you do believe. We do believe.
But do we allow the belief we have to lead us to action? Are we doing what we truly need to be doing this day to make a difference in the world? If that poor man’s son had not heard the cry for help and responded, what would have happened? Or worse yet, what would have happened if he had heard the cry and had not responded? Penicillin may not have been invented, who knows?
What we do — that smile, that gesture, that opening the door and saying “how are you” makes so much difference in the lives of other people that often we really don’t know the good that might do — and we can’t even comprehend.
My mother is in the nursing home and she is 95. I see her every morning before I come to Blessed Sacrament and each day I see and speak to this woman who I do not know at all. I always say, “Hi, how are you doing?” She is not the most positive woman. She normally says, “It’s a horrible day. The staff around here give me a hard time all the time.”
But that’s OK. I still ask her how she is doing, but the one thing she says to me periodically is, “I really enjoy talking to you every day.” Well, I only spend ten seconds talking to her. The point is, we wash people’s feet all the time. Sometimes we know it, sometimes we don’t. I think we can all be a little more attentive to what we do, so that we do wash other people’s feet — even when we do not know it.
* * *
Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.