We all share in the divine life

  • April 19, 2011
Second Sunday of Easter (Year A) May 1 (Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31)

What fuels the negative forces at work in our world? Human competition, greed, fear and selfishness do the job quite well without blaming Satan or some other sinister force for our troubles. It doesn’t really matter if we are competing for oil, trade, power, military strength, economic advantage or even God. When we are convinced that there is not enough for everyone and that we feel threatened or fearful the “fun” begins — the game of trying to do others out of what we want for ourselves.

This deadly game usually ends in blood and tears. Luke’s depiction of the ideal Christian community challenges this dreary inevitability and offers us a luminous path out of the darkness. This first generation of disciples began to renounce the cause of so much human misery — the notion of personal wealth and property especially at the expense of others. This practice of the radical common life was not common — the Dead Sea Scroll community was a noted exception. But the first Christians were convinced that this was the pattern of the new age that was being born in their time. It was the pattern of a community in which the need for competition or jealousy would be lessened and no one would be humiliated or denied the basics of life.

But this was not some sort of grim asceticism, it was the source of their joy, gratitude and generosity. They experienced God’s compassionate generosity and were anxious to share that with others. This lifestyle based on shared resources, prayer and celebration was also the source of their power for the signs and wonders that continued to be worked in their midst. This was a small community and movement and this mode of living could not be carried out in its entirety on a universal scale. At the same time, every step we take towards creating communities, nations and human institutions based on sharing, mutuality, shared living and a sense of interconnectedness is a step closer to a more just and peaceful world. The difficult times in which we live do not call for fear, grasping, lashing out or excluding. It is a challenge and an opportunity to take God’s revelation in Jesus Christ seriously and put it into practice.

Perhaps the author of 1 Peter was thinking along similar lines. God has given us a new birth and an eternal dwelling and imperishable state that await us in heaven. He points out that we love Jesus but cannot see Him — we only get a sense of the object of our love through faith. We begin to experience what the Lord has prepared for us here on Earth in human community — that is, human community that is based on these divine principles. We experience the Lord to the extent that we walk in His ways.

What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit or to have the Lord breathe on us? It is significant that immediately before breathing the spirit into His followers He uttered the Jewish blessing “peace be with you.” Peace — shalom — can mean many things, for it carries connotations of wholeness, completeness and health. And in the discourse following the Last Supper Jesus had promised them this peace. But His peace is very different from worldly notions of peace that are nothing more than domination of one group by another or the temporary absence of violence. The peace of Jesus is the peace that results from experiencing the divinity dwelling within oneself. We no longer have to ask where God is or whether God exists — we know.

It is perhaps this reassurance that Thomas needed. He is in the same position of so many — cynical, doubt-filled and afraid of being hurt or disappointed. But Jesus insists that even those who have not had the privilege of an earthly encounter with Him are by no means at a disadvantage. We are included in the divine life and Christ shares with us whatever He has received from God. This gives us the power and the means to continue the mission of Jesus. That mission is to give hope, healing and peace to a world in need and to reveal the true nature of God. As the Father sent Jesus, so He sends us.