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The apostles didn’t believe at first. “Incredulous for joy” means literally they are so excited that they can’t believe themselves. It is like if someone gets that long-shot birthday present that they would never expect would actually happen, or, as I just heard this past week, when one day a plumber in Chicago is suddenly introduced to Pope John Paul II after making an emergency call to the Cardinal’s home.
So Jesus responds to this with a good, down to earth suggestion He says “Do you have anything to eat?” Now I had a friend in seminary who said, “If I ever become bishop, that will be my motto” - Bishop Rhoades has “truth in charity”, and my friend jokingly offered this “Do you have anything to eat?” Tongue in cheek, of course, but also profoundly central to our faith. The fact that Jesus is risen from the dead, not in some neat spiritual freedom kind of way, but concretely: no joke, this guy ate fish right in front of the others, and his wounds are there.
Those wounds, like I said last week, are shown not to shame the apostles, but to heal the wounds of doubt they are still carrying. The faith of the disciples should strengthen ours. To believe too easily would be silly or delusional. But to deny what is revealed is to be stubborn and proud, or afraid of what it could mean. And for Peter and the rest of the eleven (Judas is no longer among their number), it meant that the world is changing, that the distant future is not so distant, and not so future. The future is already begun and not yet complete. For they would have been quite comfortable with the idea of the resurrection, which meant at the time that when the world ends and all have died, God will raise up the dead - for reward or punishment according to their deeds, like in some of the parables Jesus speaks about. Sure, sounds good, but that is way down the road of time - at the end. And yet here is the Lord Jesus, in the flesh, right in front of them, and able to stand in their midst in a locked room. So the world is changing, and the future resurrection is breaking through into time in Jesus, the first-fruits of the full harvest to come. It’s happening, it’s already started.
And so for the disciples, “incredulous” (unbelieving) is turned into “witnessing”. Jesus says they will be His “witnesses” and that is indeed what they become, as we see in the first reading today with Peter’s bold proclamation after a paralytic was healed in the name of Jesus.
Blessed Pope Paul VI - who died in 1978 and is to be formally canonized a saint in six months, spoke about witnesses: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Ev. Nun. - 1975)
I wonder: do we witness? Do we share with ourselves and with non-believers the good things God has done in our lives? Are we bold enough to say “I met Jesus today in Confession” or I spent some time with Jesus in church today. Do we share our joy with each other, recounting what God has done or is doing in our lives or those we know?
The future, the end of all things, the resurrection, heaven, brothers and sisters, is breaking through into our world. It is here in this Mass when we receive the first installment of what is to come. Jesus stands in our midst, not dead but alive, and wishes to give us His peace. Let us never forget to look for how God is breaking through in our lives and share it with each other, so that we ourselves may be witnesses of God’s merciful love.