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The Gospel in Context

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Visual Bible
by Stephen M. Miller


Introduction to the New Testament
by Raymond E. Brown

Exegesis by Richard Niell Donavan






SOURCE: Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.

Featured Commentaries

Feasting on the Word

Relationship between the Spirit and Easter

John 20:19–31 presents the preacher with an abundance of riches. Not only does the lesson describe two resurrection appearances by Jesus; it also presents the Johannine narrative of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. Since this lesson is to be preached on the Second Sunday of Easter, the Easter context should guide in the selection of preaching themes. Nonetheless the preacher must attend especially to the relationship between the gift of the Spirit and the Easter story.

Most Protestant Christians are not well attuned to Easter as a liturgical season; after Easter Sunday, Protestant church expectations return to something like business as usual. But nothing could be further from the case. The paschal mystery, the death and resurrection of Christ, is the centerpiece of the Christian faith, and the liturgical year devotes seven weeks to the Easter season, culminating in Pentecost. Importantly, the Sundays of this season are referred to not as Sundays after Easter, but as Sundays of Easter, Sundays fully shaped and embedded in the Easter gospel. For fifty days, the church lives into the reality of the resurrection, of what it means to be a community shaped by the dying and rising of Christ, by the expectation-shattering reality of life victorious over death.
The lesson from John shows us that it is not easy to live into the reality of Easter. After all, everything in our pre-Easter experience makes it difficult for us to embrace fully this good news. Even though Mary has told the disciples that very morning that she has seen the risen Lord (20:18), the disciples are huddled behind closed doors, afraid of those who have power over them. They do not live bold and empowered by a new reality, but like cowards. To this cowering group of disciples, Jesus comes and reveals himself, giving them his peace (Jn 20:19, 21), commissioning them to share in his ministry (v. 21), empowering them with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). On the basis of this experience, the disciples announce to Thomas (as Mary previously had to them), “We have seen the Lord.” And Thomas does not believe them (Jn 20:25).

SOURCE: Content taken from FEASTING ON THE WORD, YEAR B (12 Volume Set); David L. Bartlett (Editor); Copyright © 2011. Westminster John Knox Press. All rights reserved.
Feasting on the Word

Recognizing Jesus

John also tells us that even though Jesus walks right up to Thomas, the disciples are not quite sure who he is. It is odd, isn’t it, that Thomas does not jump up in shock the minute Jesus arrives, particularly if Jesus looks like he did before his death, if he still has the same carpenter’s hands, the road-calloused feet, and kind smile that graced his face before the cross took him down. This tells us there is a good chance that when Jesus comes to find us in our doubt-filled wanderings, we, like Thomas, will not recognize him, even when he is two inches from us.

How are we to know when God arrives if, in our doubt, our capacity for seeing God is sure to fail? John gives an answer to this question that brings us to the heart of faith’s peculiar form of knowing. Jesus offers Thomas two clues to his identity. He speaks the simple words, “Peace be with you,” and then asks his doubtful friend to put his doubtful fingers into the wounds that he, Jesus, bears from the nails and swords that destroyed his body only days before. What does this tell us about faith? When God comes, we will recognize God’s presence in those moments when peace is offered, in those moments when life’s most brutal violence is honestly acknowledged, and when, in the midst of this bracing honesty, we realize that we are not alone but have, in fact, been always, already found.
It is good news, indeed. In the different seasons of our life, Jesus’ appearance is certain to change, and we will not always know him, particularly when hardships have given us many reasons to doubt. One moment he may come to us dressed in golden garb, calling us to celebrate joyously the richness of spirit faith promises. The next, however, he may come wearing beggar’s rags, reminding us that the love which saves is vulnerable and costly, and that the glory which awaits us is humble in texture and well worn in feel. At still other times, he may come to us wrapped in the wool shawl of the wise old grandmother who simply holds us as we weep. Whatever his appearance may be, though, we will know it is he if inside those golden garbs, street-faded rags, or warm knitted cape, we find not a logically argued response to our questioning faith but a surprising proclamation of peace and touching love that is stronger than even violent death itself.
In the wonder of those wounds, he finds us.  

SOURCE: Content taken from FEASTING ON THE WORD, YEAR B (12 Volume Set); David L. Bartlett (Editor); Copyright © 2011. Westminster John Knox Press. All rights reserved.
The Biblical Imagination

Thomas waits an entire week

Thomas was forced to wait an entire week. It is difficult to imagine what must have gone through his mind during those days as he heard the others give their accounts of seeing the risen Jesus. Once again they are locked away, still looking over their shoulders, afraid that another armed cohort might come and find them. Again Jesus appears through the locked doors with the ever ordinary “Peace to you.” It would be like one of us simply saying “Hi.” Jesus’ words to Thomas are almost playful. Literally, he says in verse 27, “Bring your finger over here!” There is no word of Thomas actually examining the wounds. All we can be certain of is his breathless response, “My Lord and my God.” The tension between seeing and believing must be maintained, as the preference for believing without seeing must also be maintained (1 Pet 1:8). Jesus observes that they have finally come to believe because they have seen him. Then, remarkably, he pronounces a blessing, a berakah, on those of us who have come to believe in him without seeing. In John 17:20 Jesus revealed that we were already on his mind and in his prayers. Here, as the disciples gather around, once again he thinks of us and pronounces his blessing!

SOURCE: Content taken from THE BIBLICAL IMAGINATION (4 Volume Series); Michael Card; Copyright © 2011-14. IVP Books. All rights reserved.
God's Justice Bible

Mission Jesus' way

John 20:21–23 The disciples are commissioned to carry on Jesus’ mission. The continuity has two dimensions: the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (see Jn 1:32–33) and the forgiveness of sins (see Jn 3:16–18).

SOURCE: Content taken from GOD'S JUSTICE BIBLE: The flourishing of Creation & the Destruction of Evil notes by Tim Stafford; Copyright © 2016. Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Life Recovery Bible

Emotional healing

Jn 20:22-23 The risen Christ did as he had promised (see Jn 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7) and breathed his Holy Spirit on his disciples. This life-bringing, truth-revealing, sin-convicting, comfort-giving Spirit is also a Spirit of forgiveness. Just as we receive God’s forgiveness for our sins, so we are exhorted and enabled to forgive those who sin against us. If we refuse to forgive others, we will miss the blessed freedom that God offers. He wants us to experience the emotional healing that comes only from working through our anger and hurt to the point of releasing it to God. By God’s Spirit, recovery from our painful past can be completed.

Jn 20:24-29 Here doubting Thomas earned his reputation. He refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he saw and felt the risen Christ with his own eyes and hands. In recovery we often experience doubts. We have a hard time believing that God is at work in our life when we don’t see immediate changes or miraculous results. Recovery can be a painstaking process without much to show for it at first. Even when evidence of God’s power is not immediate, if we persevere in faith, we will experience the peace that comes from trusting God with our present problems and the unknown future.

SOURCE: Content taken from THE LIFE RECOVERY BIBLE notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

Let your doubt deepen your faith

Jn 20:25–28 Jesus wasn’t hard on Thomas for his doubts. Despite his skepticism, Thomas was still loyal to the believers and to Jesus himself. Some people need to doubt before they believe. If doubt leads to questions, questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted, then doubt has done good work. It is when doubt becomes stubbornness and stubbornness becomes a prideful lifestyle that doubt harms faith. When you doubt, don’t stop there. Let your doubt deepen your faith as you continue to search for the answer.

SOURCE: Content taken from LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE NOTES, Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.


Easter 2B Homilies

Catholic Productions

Doubting or faithful Thomas?

What did Jesus do right after his resurrection? What was the first power he gave his apostles? And, what can we glean about St. Thomas from his famous encounter with Christ and the demand for evidence?


Jesus appears to the Apostles

by Michal Hunt (Agape Bible Study)

In the Gospel Reading, it is Resurrection Sunday.  The Apostles were afraid and hiding behind locked doors when Jesus appeared to them supernaturally.  Locked doors could not stop Him.  In His greeting, Jesus reassured the Apostles, who must have been feeling ashamed of their conduct after His arrest, and He lovingly reestablishes the intimacy they had previously enjoyed with Him.  He shows them His wounded hands and His pierced side because showing them His wounds dispels any impression that they see a ghost or imposter.

Resurrection Sunday

It is Resurrection Sunday.  The “even time” of the day was toward the end of the Jewish day.  The next day for the Jews began at sundown, so their evening was in the mid-to-late afternoon.  This passage’s time reference is probably to the ninth hour Jewish time (3 PM).  The ninth hour in the afternoon was the third hour of prayer and the time for the sacrifice of the second Tamid lamb at the Temple’s afternoon liturgical worship service.

Hidden by locked doors

The Apostles are afraid and hiding behind locked doors because the Sanhedrin (Jewish Law Court) may arrest them for blasphemy just as they arrested and condemned Jesus.  Jesus comes to them supernaturally.  Locked doors cannot stop Him.  Jesus’s greeting to the disciples is the customary greeting of the Jews.  These are the very words the priest uses, as he stands in “persona Christi,” in the Person of Christ, as he greets the congregation at Mass.

Jesus’ greeting

In His greeting, Jesus reassures the Apostles, who must have been feeling ashamed of their conduct after His arrest, and He lovingly reestablishes the intimacy they had previously enjoyed with Him.  He shows them His wounded hands and His pierced side because showing them His wounds dispels any impression that He is a ghost or imposter.  They truly see the risen, glorified Body of Jesus Himself, just as He promised (Mt 20:18-19Mk 10:33-34Lk 18:31-33).

Then, Jesus makes a statement that will change the Apostles’ status in the world:  21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  This moment is the ordination of the Church’s Magisterium, and Jesus is sending them out into the world with the power and the authority of God the Father.

Receive the Holy Spirit

In the Greek text, the article “the” is missing.  Some scholars suggest it indicates, in this case, that Jesus’s breath was not giving the person of the Holy Spirit, as they would receive with the rest of the New Covenant Church at the Feast of Pentecost 50 days later, but was instead an “effusion” of His Spirit.  In Hebrew and Greek, the word “breath” is the same as “spirit.”  God first breathed His Spirit into Adam to give him physical life, and now Christ breathes His Spirit into the Apostles, filling them with spiritual life.  He is sending them forth, in the power of the Holy Spirit, who will make all things “new” again just as He did in the first Creation (Gen 1:1-2).

Messianic restoration of Israel

The prophet Ezekiel envisioned this day when he wrote of the Messianic restoration of Israel: He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man.  Say to the breath, ‘the Lord Yahweh says this: come from the four winds, breath; breathe on these dead so that they come to life!’ I prophesied as he had ordered me, and the breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet, a great, an immense army” (Ez 37:9-10 NJB).  Humanity, formally dead to sin, has been resurrected in Christ.  The faithful remnant of the Old Israel has become the nucleus of the New Israel, the New Covenant Universal [Catholic] Church that will become an immense army of disciples converting the world through the spread of the Gospel (CCC 778877).

The Sacraments of the Church

The Sacraments of the Church are visible signs instituted by Christ to confer grace.  In verses 22-23, Jesus is instituting the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation).  All sin is rebellion against God and deserved the penalty of death.  Under the Old Covenant, the sinner placed his hands on the animal, confessed his unintentional sins (Num 15:27-29) before the priest, the animal died in his place, and the priest forgave him.  However, there was no forgiveness of intentional sins because no sacrifice perfect enough to bring about that forgiveness (Num 15:30-31).  Christ is the unblemished Lamb of sacrifice for venial (unintentional) and mortal (intentional) sins.  However, we must still confess and repent our sins to God’s representative, the priest, before the pathway opens to God’s forgiveness for the restoration of our fellowship and communion with Him.

Authority to forgive Sins

In verses 22-23, the New Covenant priests receive the Son of God’s authority to forgive or retain sins.  The concept of private confession of sins has never been part of the old or new covenants’ sacramental system.  Even though it is a healthy spiritual practice to confess our shortcomings to God in our daily prayers, it is necessary to bring those venial sins (unintentional sins) before the Lord in the Penitential Rite of the Mass to receive forgiveness through receiving the Eucharist CCC 1393-9514361846).  Mortal sins must be confessed to Christ’s representative, an ordained priest of the New Covenant Church, and a successor of the first ministerial priesthood in Christ.  We confess to Christ’s representative as though we are confessing to Christ Himself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that Jesus is the physician of our souls and our bodies.  He both healed the sick and forgave their sins.  In the power of God the Holy Spirit, He has willed His Church to continue His work of healing and salvation.  In the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation, the sinner places himself before the merciful judgment of God, who heals and purifies hearts and souls.  CCC#1422: “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.”  Also, see CCC# 1423-1498.

You might ask the question; how do we know Jesus meant for us to confess to a human priest and not privately to Him?  You will agree that in verse 22, in speaking to the Apostles, Jesus gave the Church the power to forgive individual sins or retain them.  How can the Church exercise this power to make decisions about sins unless we openly confess our sins to Christ through His ordained representative, the priest?  And if He gave His priestly representatives this authority, why wouldn’t the Church use that power in His name?  We must confess specific sins to be forgiven those sins!  St. John also differentiated between the kinds of sins that were venial and mortal/deadly when he wrote: If anyone sees his brother sinning if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God, and he will give him life.  This is only for those whose sin is not deadly.  There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly (1 Jn 5:16-17).

Twelve as a symbolic number

24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

In verse 24, even though Judas’ absence makes the number of Apostles eleven, John refers to “the Twelve” as a “perfect unity” of Apostles.  In Scripture, “twelve” is the symbolic number of the perfection of government.  After Jesus’s Ascension, the Apostles will choose another to replace Judas, and the number will be a unity of “Twelve” again.

Saint Thomas

Poor St. Thomas is always remembered for this remark in verse 25 that must have come from his discouragement and fear.  Thomas seems not to be remembered for his courageous statement in John 11:16 when he declared he was prepared to die with Jesus, and he would die for Jesus.  According to the Church’s history, St. Thomas suffered martyrdom at the altar of his Church in India.  He had faithfully carried the Gospel of Jesus Christ to what was then the end of the earth!

How many times have we been guilty of the same unbelief when we reject the teaching of Mother Church in favor of secular values and morals or what we think is right?  How many Catholics in government have stated that Church must remain separate from the State, and since the law of the land allows abortion, how can they stand against it?  Do they need to see the nails in His hands?  How many of us question the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the perpetual virginity of His blessed mother?  Do we need to see the wound in His side?  Believing in Jesus Christ’s name (Acts 20:21) means accepting all that He taught and being obedient to His Church’s interpretation of those teachings.  There is no such creature as a “liberal Catholic.” Liberal and conservative are political terms.  There are orthodox, true doctrine Catholics, or there are false Catholics.  Catholicism is not a cafeteria-style religion.  It is an all-or-nothing religion.  Place your finger in His wounds, and like Thomas cry out, “My Lord and My God!

26 Now a week later [And after eight days] his disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”  […]  = Greek text.

It is eight days from the previous Sunday as the ancients counted without the concept of zero-place value.  The ancient way of counting is why Scripture determines the number of days Jesus was in the tomb as three days instead of two as we would count the days today (see verse 19).  In verse 26, it is now the following Sunday.  Sunday is both the first and the eighth day.  Saturday is the seventh day of Creation; therefore, the first day of the Creation event was what we call Sunday. In the symbolic significance of numbers in Scripture, the number eight represented salvation, regeneration, and redemption.  It is also a number representing eternity.

Jesus’s Resurrection on the eighth day made it the number of the New Covenant people.  Christians built all early churches with eight sides.  This plan includes the church at Peter’s house in Capernaum and all the Byzantine Churches of the 4th-6th centuries.  Whenever archaeologists find an ancient foundation with eight sides, they know they have found a Christian church marking a holy site associated with Christ.  Jesus’s entry into the room is similar to His entry a week earlier, and His greeting is the same.  He did not use the doors.  The testimony in verse 26 proves that Jesus was not prematurely pronounced dead and later revived.  The laws of physics do not bind him!

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving [become not unbelieving], but believe.”  28 Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  […] = literal Greek IBGE, vol. IV, page 316.

The literal Greek “become not unbelieving” gives us a better sense of Thomas’s spiritual condition.  He had not yet fallen into unbelief; however, his doubt about the Resurrection put him in danger.  What you believe matters!

Thomas responds to Jesus’s challenge by acknowledging Christ as His Lord and God.  The literal translation is “the Lord of me and the God of me.”  Both Peter and Thomas knew how to humble themselves and repent.  Judas was lost because he would not repent and return to Christ.  Thomas’s profession of faith is one of the strongest statements affirming the deity of Jesus in Sacred Scripture!

29 Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Hebrews 11:1 records that Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.   Thomas’s faith would have had more merit if he had accepted the testimony of the other Apostles instead of the exceptional proof he received through seeing and touching Jesus’s wounds.  St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the preaching of Christ (Rom 10:17).  Christ’s same teachings have been passed from the Apostles down through the generations to us in the Church today.  It is what we hear in the Liturgy of the Word and Christ’s representative is required to explain fully to us in the homily.

But what is our obligation when receiving the testimony that the Apostles passed on to their successors and down through the centuries to us?  When we accept that testimony, we must not only believe, but we must also practice what we believe.  Jesus’s statement “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” is a benediction our Lord has pronounced on all the future generations of believers!

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  31 But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that through this belief, you may have life in his name.

John’s use of the word “signs”

Other signs are not recorded in John’s Gospel but are in the Synoptic Gospels.  The use of the word “signs” is a major theme of the Gospel of John.  Jesus performed supernatural acts that had greater significance beyond the miracle.  Each miracle was a sign that pointed to theological truth, and John built his Gospel around seven theologically significant public signs that point to Jesus’s divinity and His claim that He is the Messiah:

The Seven Public Signs of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel:
#1  2:1-11 The sign of water turned to wine at the wedding at Cana
#2  4:46-54 The healing of the official’s son
#3  5:1-9 The healing of the paralytic
#4  6:1-14 The multiplication of the loaves to feed the 5,000
#5  9:1-41 The healing of the man who was born blind
#6  11:17-44 The raising of Lazarus from the dead
#7  20:1-10 The Resurrection of Jesus

Jesus performed eight miracles in John’s Gospel, several of which are not in the Synoptic Gospels.  The eighth miracle was a private revelation of the divinity of Christ for the Apostles when He walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee and calmed the storm.  Jesus’ final and most significant public “sign” of His divinity is, of course, His Resurrection, the pivotal event of Christian faith.

Jesus Resurrection as key

Why is Jesus’s Resurrection the key to Christian faith?

  1. It is the fulfillment of His promise that He would rise from the dead, therefore, verifying that everything He told us about Himself is true: He is the eternal Son of God.  We can be confident, therefore, that He will accomplish everything else He promised.
  2. Jesus’s bodily Resurrection provides us with the evidence that He is the living Christ, not just a false prophet, or a ghost, or an imposter.  He is the ruler of God’s eternal kingdom.
  3. We have the assurance of our bodily resurrection.  Death is not the end; Jesus has given us the promise of eternal life.
  4. Jesus’s divine power that has brought Him back to life is now available to us supernaturally by bringing our spiritually dead selves back to life in Christ.
  5. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis for the Church’s witness to the world that Jesus is who He says He is, and can fulfill all He has promised!

The Catechism teaches: “Finally, Christ’s Resurrection, and the risen Christ Himself, is the principle and source of our future resurrection: ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’  The risen Christ lives in the hearts of His faithful while they await that fulfillment.  In Christ, Christians ‘have tasted…the powers of the age to come,’ and their lives are swept up by Christ into the heart of divine life, so that they may ‘live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised'” (CCC# 655).

SOURCE: content taken from Michal E. Hunt at Agape Bible Study; used with permission. Section divisions and titles added.

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