An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B, John 20:19-31, April 15, 2012
WHENEVER WE CELEBRATE the Eucharist, we observe the rite of peace before receiving the sacred Body and Blood of the Lord. How this is done varies from country to country. In the Philippines, one bows to the person next to him, while saying the greeting of peace: “Peace be with you.” Of course, this does not prevent others from expressing the wish by shaking hands. Many would even take this as an occasion to give secular greetings. But the question is whether we ourselves know the significance of what we are doing. Do we really mean it, as liturgy itself wishes to teach us, and if so, what do we do about it? This has to be asked because this is not meant to be an empty gesture. On the contrary, it is meant to signify the peace that Jesus brought to us.
But what is this peace that Jesus gave us (John 20:19-31)? There is no doubt that Jesus’ “Peace be to you” (John 20:21a) is not to be taken as a simply greeting of peace. It is to be noted that peace has been promised in the passion narrative: “Peace is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you. I do not give it to you as the world gives peace” (John 14:27). In today’s gospel on the resurrection narrative, Jesus fulfilled that promise. He gave his peace as a gift for the whole duration that he was no longer with them in flesh. For Jesus, peace is not the absence of war or division, as is commonly understood. This peace is the gift of the risen One who promised to be with them in the person of the Holy Spirit. This coheres with the thought of Paul who says that peace is established through the sacrifice of God’s Son (see Rom 5:1), through the blood of the cross (Col 1:20). For this reason, the gift of peace is more than a greeting. As a gift of the risen One—and this is how the liturgy probably understands it--it refers to the right relationship (among community members and between God and his people) that comes from the presence of the risen Lord.
The right relationship among community members is depicted in the 1st Reading. With the presence of the risen One, the early Christians formed a unity of mind and heart. Their relationship was marked with harmony and love, evidenced in the sharing of goods: “The community of believers was of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common…. nor was anyone needy among them” (Acts 4:32-34). In the 2nd Reading, the relationship between God and his people is described in terms of faith and love. Since the Christian community forms a family of God, the children love their father, and that love for their father is shown in their love for one another. “We can be sure that we love God’s children when we love God and do what he has commanded.” (1 John 5:2). But the family members are, first of all, believers that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 5:1). Their faith moves them to love God and express it in their love for the brothers. When such relationship obtains, the peace of the risen One is there. Peace, thus, is envisaged as the work of faith and love. It cannot happen apart from the community which the risen One himself initiated.
That is the meaning of peace. Therefore, when before receiving communion, we greet each other with the sign of peace, we ought to have this in mind. But this kind of peace is not to be confined to the assembly gathered for the liturgy. In the context of our readings today, the kiss of peace is not simply a gesture to prepare us to receive the body and blood of Christ worthily. It must spill over to the world outside the worshipping assembly—in the market, in the school, at the office, in the streets, etc. For after imparting his peace to the disciples, he instructed his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). The peace which Jesus gave to his disciples and which we celebrate in the liturgy must be brought to the world. Peace-making is therefore part of the mission of the community of believers. Obviously, it will not take the form of a peace process in which might is right, or in which wealth dictates the terms of peace-- which is the way of the world (cf John 14:27), but it has to take a concrete form. We have to overcome the world (cf 1 John 5:4).
In our world today, it may not be expressed apart from forgiveness of the third-world debt, disarmament, equality in trade and development, and justice.