4th Sunday of Easter – A choice between two Empires
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
Of the three virtues that Paul names as over and above all, faith and hope and love, it is love that he names as the greatest. In many ways faith is not only a gift but also as an act of will. We can now see what the disciples later came to perceive, that mutual love is the hallmark of the Christian community, and without it the community cannot claim to be Christian at all. However, this love must extend beyond the demands of mutual dependence and reciprocal service, one hand washing another. It must extend beyond the group that merely cares for its own members and reach out to those beyond its boundaries and notions of what is fitting, included, or acceptable or worthy. Former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said ‘The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members’. But if we believe this do we truly live out the logic of that statement?
Today’s gospel is a rather curious reading.
You might get the feeling that underneath the words on the surface there is a sub-agenda. And you would be right. On the face of it, the rather convoluted words appear to say one thing, but something else is actually taking place. Because John is drawing together some loose threads in this final narrative, this epilogue of his gospel. The main action concerns the relationship between Jesus and Peter – something needs to be put right, something needs healing; but in the background there is also ‘the beloved disciple’. The relationships are clearly complex, at times anxious, perhaps needy, certainly all too human. What can we learn from the episode itself, and the lives that the disciples then go on to lead?
On one level one could interpret today’s Gospel as being about doubt. After all the expression ‘Doubting Thomas’ has become a well-known saying – this episode in his life is in danger of defining and confining him to a stereotype – an object of scorn or at least disapproval.
But is this really an accurate impression or is it merely a cardboard cut-out, one-dimensional portrayal of the real man. What do we really know about him, and the entirety of his life? And if there is more, much more to the story, then what can we learn, about him, and about ourselves?