Sunday, April 16, 2017
He is living among us
John 20, 1-9
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to guide the reading:
Let us read the text where the evangelist seeks to tell the readers the meaning of faith in the resurrection. He seeks to do this by means of the visit of the two disciples to the empty tomb and the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. While reading, let us pay attention to the details of the story as told in the Gospel of John who presents a very deep symbolic dimension.
b) A division of the text to assist a careful reading:
Jn 20, 1-3: the disturbing experience of the empty tomb
Jn 20, 4-10: Peter and the beloved disciple run to the sepulchre: the beloved disciple saw and believed
Jn 20, 11-18: Jesus shows himself first to Mary Magdalene and gives her a command.
c) The text:
1-3: It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,' she said, 'and we don't know where they have put him.' So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb.
4-10: They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter, following him, also came up, went into the tomb, saw the linen cloths lying on the ground and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had still not understood the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.
11-18: But Mary was standing outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, as she wept, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' 'They have taken my Lord away,' she replied, 'and I don't know where they have put him.' As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not realise that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?' Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, 'Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.' Jesus said, 'Mary!' She turned round then and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbuni!' -- which means Master. Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' So Mary of Magdala told the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord,' and that he had said these things to her.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may enter into us and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What struck you in this text that describes the first experience of the resurrection?
b) The beloved disciple went in, saw and believed. What did he see and what led him to believe? Why is it that the text tells us only the reaction of the beloved disciple and not that of Peter?
c) What changes take place in Mary Magdalene during the dialogue? How did this change happen?
d) What mission or command does Jesus give Mary Magdalene?
e) Mary Magdalene was seeking Jesus in one way and meets him in another. How does this occur in our lives?
f) To see and believe. The beloved disciple saw and believed. What is it that leads me to believe that Jesus is alive, that he is present in our midst, today, giving new life to the poor?
g) Have you gone through an experience of loss or death? What gave you new life or new hope and the joy of life? What is it that I say when I affirm, "I believe in the resurrection"?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the text.
a) In John’s Gospel, faith in the resurrection is encountered in the description of the passion and death of Jesus:
* In describing the passion and death of Jesus, John’s Gospel wants to point out not the sentence passed on a political subversive, but the hour for glorifying the Son of God. During the whole process that carries Jesus to his death, he is master of what happens to himself and to his adversaries. For John, the cross is synonymous with "lifting", rising on high, to be with the Father (Jn 3,14; 8,28; 12,32-34). It is the beginning of the resurrection that is revealed fully on the first day of the week (Jn 20,1). That is why in John’s Gospel there is no agony in the garden (Jn 18,1-2). When Jesus is in prison, the soldiers are frightened when Jesus says: "I am he!" (Jn 18,6). When Jesus is dying, he does not cry out like in the other Gospels. Serenely he takes leave of his friends, of his mother, and then expires (Jn 19,28-30).
* The story of the passion is another more concrete example of the fact that John does not simply relate historical facts, but puts them through an X-Ray. He tries to show that which the facts hide. When Pilate, Hanna, the Jewish and Roman authorities try to end Jesus’ life, in truth they were allowing Jesus to be elevated towards God. From his prison, Jesus directs events and gives his life. "I lay down my life of my own free will, and as it is in my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it up again. No one takes it from me, I lay it down of my own free will" (Jn 10,17-18). All can set their minds at rest and be full of hope because Jesus has overcome and has been glorified by the Father (Jn 17,5).
b) Peter and the beloved disciple go the empty tomb (vv. 1-10):
* The experience of the resurrection of the early community was a long process, an experience that grew slowly like the growth of a strong tree. At first, many did not believe in the witness of those who had experienced the living presence of Jesus (Mt 28,17; Mk 16,11.13.14; Lk 24,11.36.41; Jn 20,25). But the experience of the resurrection expressed in the form of apparitions was so strong, so deep and so convincing that it succeeded in overcoming human unbelief confronted with the possibility of the victory of life over death.
* The women were more faithful than the men. They were the first to believe in the Good News of the resurrection (Mt 28,9-10; Lk 24,4-11; Jn 20,11-18). Confronted by the news of Mary Magdalene who sees the empty tomb, Peter and the beloved disciple run to the tomb. The Gospel relates the strange news according to which "the other disciple" ran faster than Peter and arrived first at the tomb, but did not go in. He looked inside and saw the bandages on the ground. After he went in he saw also the folded shroud to one side. The Gospel then says, "He saw and believed!" But nothing is said of Peter’s reaction although it was he who had gone first into the empty tomb. At the end, the Gospel adds, "Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead" (Jn 20,9). This means that the Old Testament on its own does not communicate a complete understanding of that which it contains. The light for understanding the real meaning of the Old Testament appears at the very moment when the beloved disciple "saw and believed". His experience of the resurrection was like a light that struck the eyes of the disciples and revealed to them the complete and full meaning of the Old Testament. It is this light to the sight that liberates the words of the Old Testament.
* A comparison to understand the change. In a circle of friends, someone showed a photo where there was a man with a harsh face, with the finger raised, almost assaulting the public. All thought that he was an inflexible person, unpleasant, who distanced himself from others. At that moment, a boy arrived and said, "This is my father!" The others looked at him and said, "A harsh father, then!’ The boy replied, "No, no, no! He is very loving. My father is a lawyer. That photo was taken in court when he was denouncing the crime of a landowner who wanted to dispossess a poor family of some unused land that they owned for a long time! My father won the case. The poor family was not deprived of its land!" All looked at the photo again and said, "What a beautiful photo!" Almost by miracle, a light was shed on the photo and it assumed a new look. That harsh face became bathed in great tenderness! The words of the son changed everything, while changing nothing! The words and actions of Jesus, born of his experience as son, received and raised by the Father, without changing one letter or comma, changed the whole meaning of the Old Testament (Mt 5,17-18). The same God, who seemed so distant and harsh, took on the traits of a good Father, full of tenderness!
c) Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene:
* Mary Magdalene was one of the few who had the courage to stay with Jesus until the time of his death on the cross. She goes back to the tomb to be where she had been with the Beloved for the last time. She looks for Jesus with whom she had lived for the last three years. The disciples from Emmaus will see Jesus, but will not recognise him (Lk 24,15-16). The same thing happens to Mary Magdalene. She sees Jesus, but does not recognise him. She thinks he is the gardener. But she is looking for the Jesus of the past, the same as he was three days previously. The image of Jesus as he was stops her from recognising the living Jesus, present before her.
* Jesus pronounces the name "Mary!" This was the signal for her to recognise him: the same voice, the same manner of saying the name. She replies, "Master!" Jesus has come back, and it was the same Jesus who had died on the cross. Her first impression is that death was just a painful incident along the way, and that now all was back as it was before. Mary embraces Jesus strongly. It was the same Jesus she knew.
* In fact, it is the same Jesus, but the manner of being with her is not the same. Jesus says to her, "Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father!" He will go to the Father. Mary Magdalene must leave Jesus and take on her mission: to announce to the brothers that Jesus has ascended to the Father. Jesus opened the way for us and brought God close to us again.
* The way the apparition of Jesus to Mary Magdalene is described makes us realise the stages of the journey she has to go through, from the painful search to the new encounter of Easter. These too are the stages we all have to go through in our lives, the search for God by living the Gospel.
6. Psalm 27 (26)
God is my victory
Yahweh is my light and my salvation,
whom should I fear?
Yahweh is the fortress of my life,
whom should I dread?
When the wicked advance against me
to eat me up,
they, my opponents, my enemies,
are the ones who stumble and fall.
Though an army pitch camp against me,
my heart will not fear,
though war break out against me,
my trust will never be shaken.
One thing I ask of Yahweh,
one thing I seek:
to dwell in Yahweh's house
all the days of my life,
to enjoy the sweetness of Yahweh,
to seek out his temple.
For he hides me away under his roof
on the day of evil,
he folds me in the recesses of his tent,
sets me high on a rock.
Now my head is held high
above the enemies who surround me;
in his tent I will offer sacrifices of acclaim.
I will sing, I will make music for Yahweh.
Yahweh, hear my voice as I cry,
pity me, answer me!
Of you my heart has said, 'Seek his face!'
Your face, Yahweh, I seek;
do not turn away from me.
Do not thrust aside your servant in anger,
without you I am helpless.
Never leave me, never forsake me,
God, my Saviour.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
Yahweh will gather me up.
Yahweh, teach me your way,
lead me on the path of integrity
because of my enemies;
do not abandon me to the will of my foes
-- false witnesses have risen against me,
and are breathing out violence.
This I believe: I shall see the goodness of Yahweh,
in the land of the living.
Put your hope in Yahweh, be strong,
let your heart be bold, put your hope in Yahweh.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.