The First and Second Post Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

The readings for Sunday, April 3, Second Sunday of Easter, Cycle C, are
Acts 5:12-16; Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; and John 20:19-31.

The gospel reading of the Second Sunday of Easter includes the first and second post resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. The first appearance takes place on the very day of the resurrection (Sunday) in the evening. Jesus had already appeared to an important woman disciple, Mary of Magdala. He commissioned her to proclaim that he ascended to “my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” She fulfilled her commission. Then “on the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut out of fear of the Jews, Jesus entered (the room) and stood among them.” This first appearance to his gathered disciples is also the gospel reading for Pentecost. Further comment is reserved until then, except for one point, “out of fear of the Jews.” What Jews? Everyone in the room was a Jew, including the Jew Jesus who entered the room. John uses the same Greek word for Jews and Judeans. The latter is a more accurate translation here. It must refer to the Judean high priestly families which, according to Luke’s Acts of Apostles, became deadly enemies of the Christian movement.

The second appearance of Jesus to his gathered disciples occurs “eight days later.” This reference to time determines the choice of this gospel reading on the eighth day of Easter or Second Sunday of Easter. This Sunday was also known as “Low Sunday” in contrast to the high festivities of Easter Sunday. Before the action of this second appearance begins, the author takes readers on a flashback to the first appearance. He writes, “Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them at Jesus’ first visit.” The disciples who were present at that first visit reported to Thomas what had happened in his absence. Thomas replies with the famous demand which changed his name from Thomas Didymus to Thomas the Doubter. His statement basically means, “Seeing is believing,” which in itself can be a contradiction.

Didymus? Since Thomas was a Jew and therefore bore a Hebrew name, one possibility is this: the sounding of the Hebrew word for “twin” or “twins” (TOAM) or (TOAMEI) is not unlike the sounding of the Greek THOMAS. Since John writes his gospel in the Greek language for Greek readers, he may have thought it helpful to translate (three times) the Hebrew name of this disciple into its Greek equivalent, even if Thomas was never really called “Twin” as in “Hey, Twin!” but : “Toam” by his Hebrew or Aramaic-speaking family and friends. Another possibility: The Greek noun Didumos, rendered as Didymus in Latin and English translations, may have been a nickname for the disciple Thomas. In ancient times (even in our times) nicknames were sometimes applied to persons because of some unusual bodily or mental characteristic or some event in a person’s life. Such names were not always intended as compliments and were sometimes cruel. The Greek Didumos in the plural is the Greek word for twin male reproductive organs.

“Now a week (eight days) later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. In a repetition of his first appearance to them, he entered, “although the doors were locked.” The resurrected body of Jesus is no longer subject to the laws of physics. The words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:44 are pertinent, “It is sown a physical body. It is raised a spiritual body.” Jesus stands among them. Once again, for the third time, he grants them his Shalom, which is more than “Hello” or “Hail.” It is a wish for total wellbeing, security, peace. At the Last Supper Jesus had explained to the disciples, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you,” John 14:27.

All eyes move toward Thomas, “See, we told you, and you wouldn’t believe!” Jesus addresses Thomas’ demand of a week earlier. “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.” Earlier in John’s Gospel Thomas had already shown himself to be somewhat blustering and maybe not so bright. See John 11:16 and 14:5. John writes his gospel about 60 years after the events, and may be using Thomas as the proverbial “straight man” as he does with other actors in his Gospel. Someone has to ask the “slow” questions, so that Jesus in his answer can elevate them to a more spiritual level. The author does not tell us if Thomas accepted Jesus’ invitation to touch and see. His faith is fired up by the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He replies, “My Lord and my God!” John proclaimed at the beginning of his gospel,”… and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh, and pitched his tent among us.” Thomas’ profession of faith, “My Lord and my God,” is this gospel’s confirmation of that first proclamation. John thus closed the circle.
John has a word for us latecomers who did not have the good fortune of the disciples as we read in the First Letter of John, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands…” A beatitude is addressed to all Christians, “Blessed are those who have not seen and (yet) believed.” John adds the first closing of his gospel, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” John chose seven “signs” (miracles) of Jesus to include in his gospel. He calls them “signs” because they are clues or signs to the identities and attributes of Jesus. Why seven? The perfect and perfectly overused biblical number! The fact that John notes that not everything Jesus did is written in the gospel is an opening to the validity of oral tradition. Finally John proclaims the purpose of including what he did include, “These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this faith you may have life in his name.”