Belonging is so basic to us. Being chosen, invited, inducted, and embraced are experiences we long for. We fear their opposites as well. Exclusion and rejection are equally fundamental to our humanity.
In the early sixties the big psychological problem seemed to be “Identity Crises”. I had one myself and I related that to my Novice Director. I figured I would be inducted into a special group of Crises Anonymous. He listened and asked me what I thought I was, “A blue bird?” I came to the realization that I and we were all growing into our identities and that was our identity.
We are living toward and out our true belonging, our real inclusion flowing from Easter into service. We can pray these days of Easter Week with a calm sense of our baptismal names. We are included, we have just celebrated our being inducted, invited and embraced as found-lings, sought for and sent. Easter is more than a day; it is our being rescued from not knowing who we are and living that identity through our many days.
Our First Reading from The Acts of the Apostles follows a little scandal within the early Christian community. All the followers were selling their goods and putting everything in common for the betterment of all. Ananias and his wife, Sophira, kind of Adam and Eve all over again, pulled off a land deal. They decided to give some of the proceeds to Peter, but hold some back for themselves.
They get found out and are struck dead on the spot. This is a case of exclusion in the first degree. Their sin was greed and self-preoccupation, not unlike Adam and Eve who were likewise excluded.
The believers gathered together and many wonders were worked, but though others were impressed, they did not want to join, perhaps because of the sudden-death event they had witnessed. They also might have not wanted to sell everything and invest in the common good.
As the sick were healed by the power of the Holy Spirit, many others did come to follow the Way of Jesus through the preaching of the Good News. The early Church grew even though there was and would be persecution, suspicion and rejection and other scandals throughout its history.
The theme of exclusion/inclusion continues in today’s Gospel reading from John. There is a liturgical form wherein Jesus does a dramatic, but quiet Entrance Rite, greeting of peace, Penance Rite and then a Dismissal Rite - a sending. There is something missing and a someone, as well; Thomas who was out doing his own thing or dealing with his shame privately.
Jesus comes again and Thomas is there. Jesus offers him His Body and Thomas receives and believes. Intimacy leads to fruitfulness and the liturgy is completed by the fruitful lives and preaching of the Sent. Thomas does not come to believe through insights or logic, but through an unreasonable encounter with himself. Unreasonable it is, because love is beyond good reasons and deductions. All twelve have such an experience. They had denied who they were, but Jesus, having stayed faithfully obedient to Himself through His life and death, begins the reversal of the consequences of the “Old Adam”.
A few weeks ago I was given a shamrock plant at the end of a weekend retreat. I brought it to my room and forgot about its needing water. All the leaves and stems collapsed and so did my image of my being a good gardener.
Ah, but there is a second story, amazing what a little water will do. I now report new growth and the green symbol of my Irish roots flourishes. As I write the rain is beginning to wash away the old and bring new life to the earth, amazing. Jesus amazes His unfaithful old earthlings by breathing upon their oldness. Behold I am doing something new! Their old ways of falsifying their identities is over. They are met by Jesus in their apartness, their shameful-shadowful isolation from each other. Jesus pours the water of His relationship upon them and they are to experience their own resurrections. As with my little plant, they are to live, not just for themselves, just for the sake of living, but for the exchange, the reception of and distribution of life.
Above I mentioned that something was missing, besides the person of Thomas. It is quite beautiful the way Jesus comes back to literally handle the Doubter. Jesus invites Thomas to extend his hand and receive the resurrected Body. The liturgical setting is complete then, Thomas takes Jesus into his hands and touching and seeing, comes to believe. Reception begins the exchange. Jesus raises His New Body, the Church to give what they had received.
It is a tremendous idea to let go of the idea of bread becoming the Body of Jesus. Thomas was not converted by an idea. The more difficult to believe is that Jesus transforms me and you and us into more than shamrocks, but into His Body and distributes us as gifts of His living love. The big Easter experience is our moving past the ideas of being a gift and into the Easter exchange. Our putting our hands out to receive His Body is the beginning of the untying the ribbons or strings, or ropes, or chains which prevent the gift of me to become a we. We are meant to be sent and as with the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus, made available, made nourishing, made visibly present within the reality of our simple bodies. A good question is whether we doubt His sacred presence or our own.
“Jesus spoke to Thomas, put your hand here, and see the place of the nails. Doubt no longer, but believe, Alleluia.” Jn. 20, 27
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