The Second Sunday of Easter – 16th April 2023
Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 117:2-4.13-15.22-24; 1Pet 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31.
Theme: Jesus sends his disciples
hapter 20 of John’s Gospel, from which today’s reading is taken, concludes with two verses (vv. 30-31) that were almost certainly the final verses of the Gospel when it was first composed, chapter 21 being a later addition. Verse 31 states the purpose for which the Gospel was written. In the NRSV this appears as “so that you might come to believe”, with a note that the Greek original can also be read as “so that you might continue to believe”. The first suggests that the Gospel was written for non-believers, and the second, that it was written for those who believe already. Do we count ourselves among the latter, or are we, in some sense, still coming to believe?
Jesus’ greeting “Peace be with you” echoes a greeting in the Aramaic book of Tobit with which Jesus may have been familiar. It is spoken by the angel Raphael to Tobias and Sarah (Tob. 12:17). Its three-fold repetition in John 20 (vv. 19, 21, 26) is a signal to pause and reflect. The familiar Hebrew word shalom (the Aramaic word is shlama) means not just peace, but harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity and tranquility. The Risen Jesus is offering his disciples something much richer than absence of war or strife. This very Jewish notion is emphasized by the fact that one of the eight names of the Messiah listed in Beth ha-Midrash 2:100 is Sar-Shalom, Prince of Peace (Strack & Billerbeck vol.1, 1:21B).
Following Jesus’ second greeting he breathes on the disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit. There is an allusion here to the creation accounts in Genesis. In Genesis 1:2 a ruah (breath, wind, spirit) from God sweeps over the face of the waters and the cosmos begins to take shape. In Genesis 2:7 the breath of God brings life to the first human being. So in John’s appearance story, the breath of the Risen Jesus brings about a new creation; the disciples are infused with new life. This new creation, like the first, is bursting with energy, energy for going to the rest of the world with a message of forgiveness and hope.
The Holy Spirit is often thought of as a particularly Christian notion, but it actually has deep Jewish roots. It is found in the Hebrew Scriptures as Ruah Ha-Qodesh (the Spirit of the Holy [One]). Examples are Psalm 51:13, “do not take your holy spirit away from me” and Isaiah 63:11, “Where is the one who put within them his holy spirit…”. While Jewish tradition does hold that the Holy Spirit departed from Israel with the last of the prophets, there is a persistent understanding in rabbinic literature that it continued to be active, e.g. “As soon as Rabbi Meir saw them, he saw by means of the Holy Spirit [what had happened]…” (Leviticus Rabbah 9.9). There is widespread agreement that it has continued to operate under different forms, e.g. the Bat Kol or Heavenly Voice. (Bregman, 7-9)
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Do you see yourself in any way as still coming to believe in the Risen Jesus? 2. Do you sense that the Holy Spirit is active in your own life? In what ways?
Bibliography: Bregman, M. “Ruah Ha-Qodesh (The Holy Spirit) in Rabbinic Literature” (Bat Kol Lecture 2005, unpublished); Strack, H.L. & Billerbeck P. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash Vol.1(Bellingham WA: 2022); Levine, A-J. & Brettler, M.Z. The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford: 2017).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Kevin L McDonnell cfc, Australia, Bat Kol alumnus 2003, 2004, 2005