2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 4:32–35; 1 John 5:1–6; John 20:19–31
Reason and the Risen Jesus
Reason supports what Scripture tells us: Jesus is indeed risen.
Suppose we called you up to the lectern and blindfolded you. Suppose we placed a water bucket in front of you and asked you if it was empty or full.
What are three ways you can learn the answer to that question without removing the blindfold?
One way is to reach into the bucket and feel if there is water in it. In other words, you can experience firsthand if the bucket is full or empty. This way of learning is called experiencing. It’s knowledge that we acquire by firsthand experience. It’s knowledge that our senses give us.
A second way to learn if the bucket contains water or not is to drop an object, like a coin, into it. If the object hits the bottom of the bucket with a loud or ringing sound, you know the bucket is empty. On the other hand, if the coin hits with a slurp or a splash, you know the bucket contains water.
This way of acquiring knowledge is called reasoning.
A third way to learn if the bucket contains water is to ask someone you trust. The person could look into the bucket and tell you if it has water in it. This way of learning is called believing. It’s knowledge that we acquire by faith.
Experiencing, reasoning, believing—these are the three ways we acquire knowledge in this life.
Now consider a second question. Of the three ways of acquiring knowledge, by which way do we learn most of our knowledge?
Do we learn mostly
by experiencing things with our senses,
by reasoning to them with our minds,
or by believing them with our hearts?
If you said believing, you’re absolutely right. We acquire most of our knowledge by believing what others tell us.
Some experts estimate that we learn as much as 80 percent of our knowledge in this way.
few of us have traveled around the world. The only way we know about most countries is by what others tell us.
In other words, we trust the people who have been there.
If they tell us there is a country called China and that its people do this or that, we believe them.
What is true of the way we acquire regular knowledge is even more true of the way we acquire religious knowledge. Most of our religious knowledge comes to us by believing what the Scriptures tell us. In other words, most of our religious knowledge comes by believing.
Now consider a third question. Can we acquire religious knowledge by the same three ways that we acquire regular knowledge?
can we know that Jesus rose from the dead not just by believing what Scripture says but also by reasoning?
Some people think we can. Their explanation is fascinating.
They begin by pointing out that after the death of Jesus,
his disciples were completely distraught.
They were a defeated group of people.
They were a discouraged group of people.
They were a frightened group of people.
Then on Easter Sunday, something happened to these distraught, discouraged, frightened people.
Something transformed them in the most remarkable way imaginable. Something changed them in an amazing way.
Suddenly they literally exploded with joy and happiness.
They couldn’t contain themselves.
Off they went to tell everyone they met that Jesus was risen and alive. So convinced were they about this that they readily suffered the most terrible kinds of persecution, and even death, rather than deny their risen Lord.
The lives and preaching of this handful of people changed the course of human history.
No acceptable explanation has ever been given to explain their transformed lives—no explanation but their own: They had seen Jesus alive.
Had these unlearned people lied about Jesus and his resurrection, it’s reasonable to assume that sooner or later
one of them would have confessed under the pressure of persecution or death.
But none did.
Their witness to the risen Jesus never wavered.
Their witness never weakened in the least.
On the contrary, it grew stronger and more powerful.
They even experienced an amazing new power that allowed them to work miracles.
It is this unexplainable transformation of the followers of Jesus that leads some people to say that reason itself testifies to the resurrection of Jesus.
In other words, pure logical reason dictates that something spectacular happened on Easter to transform the followers of Jesus. Pure logical reason dictates that the resurrection of Jesus really happened.
You and I can’t place our hand in the side of Jesus, as Thomas did, and experience firsthand Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But we can place our trust in the testimony of Scripture.
We can do more.
We can use God’s gift of reason to confirm what Scripture tells us.
We too, then, can fall down on our knees, as Thomas did, and say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28
Jesus, in turn, will say to us, “How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” John 20:29
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, whenever our faith falters, as the faith of Thomas did, remind us of your words in Scripture about what happened on Easter Sunday.
Remind us also about the impact this event had not only on the disciples of Jesus but on the whole course of history.
Above all, remind us to share the good news of your resurrection with others in our world, just as the disciples shared it with the people of their world.
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.
2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 4:32–35; 1 John 5:1–6; John 20:19–31
We are called not just to faith but also to spread the faith.
One of the most remarkable stories to come out of World War II is the story of an Air Force plane that crashed in the Pacific.
On board were Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, the famous World War I fighter pilot, Lt. James Whittaker, and a crew of six others.
All eight survived the crash. For the next 21 days they floated in three tiny rubber rafts without food or water.
Their only source of strength was a daily prayer service.
It consisted of reading from a pocket Bible and praying spontaneously to God. Lt. Whittaker was the only atheist in the group, but not for long.
On the sixth day the men were growing weak and needed food and water badly. After their evening prayer service, they fired off a flare, hoping it would attract a ship or a plane.
But the flare was faulty and fell back among the rafts. As it did, it attracted a school of fish. In their excitement, two fish leaped into one of the rafts. The men had their first food in a week.
The next afternoon the men prayed for water.
Shortly afterward, they were deluged by a rain storm.
From that point on, Lt. Whittaker became a believer.
On the tenth day something special happened. After their daily prayer service, the men confessed their sins aloud.
It was a beautiful display of faith and humility in the presence of God and one another.
On the 13th day another remarkable thing happened. A heavy shower of rain passed by, missing the thirsty men by a thousand feet.
For the first time Lt. Whittaker led the others in prayer.
He prayed that the rain would return. What happened then
he describes this way in a book he later wrote about the experience:
“There are some things that can’t be explained by the natural law. The wind did not change, but the receding curtain of rain
began to move slowly toward us against the wind. We drank, and caught a store of water.”
On the 21st day they spotted land. Lt. Whittaker manned the oars of his raft. Seven and a half hours later he reached land. He later wrote:
“Today, fully recovered, I would hesitate to tackle that stretch of water. Yet, exhausted from three weeks of thirst, hunger and exposure, I accomplished the feat.”
As soon as they reached land, they knelt down and gave thanks to God.
When Lt. Whittaker returned home, he wrote a best-selling book about the experience. He also toured the country, sharing his new faith with live audiences.
The man who started out as an unbeliever became the most ardent believer of all.
The similarity between the story of Lt. James Whittaker and the story of Thomas the Apostle in today’s gospel reading is obvious.
Both were men who doubted.
Both eventually became ardent believers.
They became more.
They became missionaries to others.
Whittaker’s missionary efforts took him on speaking engagements in which he shared his new faith with people across the United States. Thomas the Apostle’s missionary efforts took him all the way to India.
And the missionary work of both men continues to bear fruit to this very day.
there are thousands of Christians in India who trace their faith through ancient family traditions all the way back to Thomas the Apostle.
And in July 1987, 45 years after James Whittaker published his book, the Reader’s Digest ran a story on how the book still impacts people today.
The important thing is that both Thomas and Lt. Whittaker went from nonbelief to belief. They both became apostles who shared their new faith with others.
There is a lesson here for all of us.
Many of us have gone from unbelief to belief in our lives.
But how many of us have taken the step that both Thomas and Lt. Whittaker took? How many of us have become apostles to others?
God never intended us to keep our gift of faith bottled up inside ourselves. God intended us to share it with others,
just as the men in the rafts shared their faith
with Lt. Whittaker, and just as the other apostles shared their faith with Thomas, and just as Thomas and Lt. Whittaker,
in turn, shared their faith with others.
That’s the message of today’s gospel reading. Jesus tells his disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.’’ John 20:21
The point Jesus makes is that we have been given the faith by him not to be locked away in our hearts but to be shared with our brothers and sisters.
It is to be shared with our children. It is to be shared with the members of our own families. It is to be shared with friends
who once believed in Jesus but have become inactive in the faith. It is to be shared with acquaintances and neighbors who are still searching.
This is the message of today’s gospel.
We are not just called to believe in Jesus and leave it at that.
We are also called to share our faith.
In the words of John XXIII, “Every believer in this world must become a spark of light.’’
Let’s close with a prayer:
help us realize that you gave us our faith not to be kept to ourselves but to be shared with others.
Help us share it as the men in the rafts shared their faith with Lt. Whittaker. Help us share our faith in you as the apostles in the upper room shared their faith with Thomas.
Help us become a spark of Easter light in a world still filled with Good Friday darkness.
2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 4:32–35, 1 John 5:1–6, John 20:19–31
Faith needs to be nourished and exercised.
Jesus said to Thomas, “Do you believe because you see me?
How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” John 20:29
July 20, 1969, was one of the most eventful days in modern history. On that day, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on the face of the moon.
A whole series of preparatory flights had paved the way for that event. One was the flight of Gemini 4 in 1965. It was a four-day mission manned by astronauts Ed White and Jim McDivitt.
On that flight, Ed White stepped outside the space capsule and made his famous 20-minute space walk.
When that famous flight returned to earth, a reporter interviewed White at length. One questions he asked him was what personal items he took with him on the flight.
White said one was a Saint Christopher medal, which had been given to him by Pope John XXIII. White went on to explain to the reporter:
“I took it to express my faith in myself, in Jim McDivitt, my partner, and especially in God. Faith was the most important thing we had going for us on that journey.”
After that interview, someone said, “The Gemini 4 journey
from the earth to outer space is a lot like our own spiritual journey from this life to the next life. The most important thing we’ve got going for us on that journey is faith—faith in ourselves, in one another, and, especially, in God.”
Few stories in the Gospel better illustrate the importance of faith than the story of Thomas the Apostle in today’s Gospel.
Thomas had followed Jesus ever since he had met him.
If anyone’s faith should have been strong, it should have been Thomas’s.
But then came Good Friday. The faith that Thomas thought was strong turned out to be shockingly fragile.
It was so fragile that when the other apostles said,
“We have seen the Lord,” Thomas said:
“Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25
After reading today’s Gospel, someone asked this question:
Why do some people have a strong faith and others a fragile faith?
In a way this is almost like asking, Why do some people have
strong physical health and others do not? Consider just two possible reasons.
Some people have poor health because their parents did.
They inherited a fragile body.
On the other hand, some people have poor health because
they don’t take care of themselves. For example, they don’t eat intelligently and they do not exercise regularly.
What is true of physical health is also true of spiritual health.
Some people have a weak faith because their parents had a weak faith.
They inherit it, so to speak. If parents are lukewarm in their faith, this usually affects their children.
On the other hand, our faith may be weak because we neglect it.
we fail to receive the Eucharist in a prayerful way or we fail to live out our faith in daily life. This brings us to a second question.
Regardless of the reason for our weak faith, what can we do to strengthen it?
First of all, we need to keep in mind that faith is a gift.
Having said this, however, it is up to us to dispose ourselves to receive the gift—an increase in faith.
Disposing ourselves for the gift of faith or an increase in faith
is not unlike keeping physically fit.
If we don’t eat well or exercise regularly, our body tends to grow weak or sickly. On the other hand, if we eat intelligently and exercise regularly, our body tends to grow stronger and healthier.
Our faith is somewhat like that too. It responds to nourishment and exercise.
when we receive the Eucharist prayerfully and live our lives according to the Gospel, our faith tends to grow stronger. Consider an example.
Years ago, a magazine carried an article about a man who was vacationing alone in a remote mountain cabin. Something was seriously wrong in his life, and he wanted to come to grips with it.
But instead of coming to grips with it, he grew more desperate and depressed. Finally, one night, he called out into the darkness, “God, if you are out there, help me! Help me! Help me!”
His plea was met only with silence. Then, a few minutes later, a strange thought popped into his mind. It was almost like a command, saying:
Start living the Gospel, even though you do not fully understand it yet. In the process of living it, you will begin to see that it is true.
The thought was so clear and powerful that the man resolved to try. He wrote later:
That experience taught me a lesson I never forgot. It taught me that the way to a stronger faith is to begin living the teachings of Jesus in my everyday life.
Just as we embark on a program of physical exercise to build up our physical health, so we can embark upon a spiritual program to build up our spiritual health.
And an important dimension of any spiritual program is to begin living the Gospel—to begin putting into practice the teachings of Jesus.
The Gemini 4 space journey from the earth to outer space is, indeed, a lot like our spiritual journey from this life to the next life. The most important thing we’ve got going for us on that journey is faith—in ourselves, in one another, and, especially, in God.
Let us close with these words of Albert Schwietzer, the great missionary doctor:
Do you want to believe in Jesus?
Do you really want to believe in him?
Then you must do something for him.
In this age of doubt there is no other way.
If for his sake you give someone something to eat, or drink, or wear—which Jesus promised to bless as though it were done to him—then you will see that you really did it for him. Then he will reveal himself to you, as one who is alive.