Surprisingly, the concluding verse of the Gospel reading for today contains an apology of sorts, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book."
No need for that, I do declare. The account we have before our eyes contains signs enough to keep us enthralled. We have only to do what we should always do: read smart.
We find the disciples gathered on the evening of Jesus' resurrection. They have come together in a secure place with doors locked because of the terrifying event that happened three days before, namely, the ghastly execution of their beloved teacher.
'Reach out your hand and put it in my side.'
They do not know but what the vengeful powers in the community might seek further bloodletting and come after one or all of them. Bolted doors notwithstanding, they have an astonishing experience - perhaps a vision? "Jesus came and stood among them." He speaks the consoling words, "Peace be with you." The Gospel text continues in its succinct manner, saying they rejoiced.
But if we read smart, our imagination can fill in details passed over by John's Gospel: The room fills with whoops of joy. Questions tumble one over another, "What the . . . is it you? Oh Lord! We thought you were . . . Where have you been? How did you get in here?"
John's sparse account seems to invite us to ask that last question and propose an answer. But before we go far in that direction, we read a description of a similar encounter which occurred eight days later with one significant difference: This scene leaves no doubt about the physical reality of Jesus. Thomas, one of the Twelve makes the point.
They had all assembled as before, and though the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them. Smart reading asks the same question, "How did he get in?"
For some reason, Thomas missed the earlier appearance of Jesus a week past, but he had heard its startling and, in his case, the unbelievable news from his confreres. "We have seen the Lord," they said.
Language of a generation ago would have Thomas replying, "Pooh pooh! Phooey!" Current speech might have him express his doubt with a smarmy "R-i-i-gh-t!" In this latter meeting with all the disciples, Jesus greets them with the same blessing, "Peace be with you" and challenges Thomas with the key element of his test, "Reach out your hand and put it in my side."
Smart reading notes and remembers the humility of Thomas. Between the telling of these two wonder-filled meetings, the first on the evening of his resurrection, and the second a week later, Jesus bestows on the disciples the excruciatingly refined powers of forgiveness with the obligation to forgive implied.
Elsewhere and at another time, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother or sister who has sinned against him. He suggests an answer to his question, "Up to seven times?" Jesus brushes that aside, "Not seven times, but 77 times."
Is forgiveness important or what?
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)