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Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31
The Gospel of this Sunday "in Albis" tells of the two appearances of the risen Jesus to the apostles in the cenacle. In this first appearance Jesus says to the apostles: "'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' After having said this he breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" It is the solemn moment of sending. In Mark's Gospel the same sending is expressed with the words: "Go and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).
Luke's Gospel, which has accompanied us this year, expresses this movement from Jerusalem to the world with the episode of the two disciples who travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus with the risen Christ, who explains the Scriptures to them and breaks bread for them. There are three or four villages that claim to be the ancient Emmaus of the Gospel. Perhaps even this particular town, like the whole episode, has a symbolic value. Now Emmaus is every town; the risen Jesus accompanies his disciples along all the roads of the world and in all directions.
The historical problem that we will deal with in this last conversation of the series has precisely to do with Christ's commission of the apostles. The questions that we ask ourselves are: Did Jesus really order his disciples to go into the whole world? Did he think that a community would be born from his message, that this message would have a following? Did he think that there should be a Church? We ask ourselves these questions because, as we have done in these commentaries, there are those who give a negative answer to these questions, an answer that is contrary to the historical data.
The undeniable fact of the election of the Twelve Apostles indicates that Jesus had the intention of giving life to a community and foresaw his life and teaching having a following. All the parables whose original nucleus contains the idea of an expansion to the Gentiles cannot be explained in another way. One thinks of the parable of the murderous tenants of the vineyard, of the workers in the vineyard, of the saying about the last who will be first, of the "many who will come from the east and west to the banquet of Abraham," while others will be excluded -- and countless other sayings.
During his life Jesus never left the land of Israel, except for some brief excursion into the pagan territories in the north, but this is explained by his conviction that he was above all sent for the people of Israel, to then urge them, once converted, to welcome the Gentiles into the fold, according to the universalistic proclamations of the prophets.
It is often claimed that in the passage from Jerusalem to Rome, the Gospel message was profoundly modified. In other words, it is said that between the Christ of the Gospels and the Christ preached by the different Christian churches, there is not continuity but rupture.
Certainly there is a difference between the two. But there is an explanation for this. If we compare a photograph of an embryo in the maternal womb with the same child at the age of 10 or 30, it could be said that we are dealing with two different realities; but we know that everything that the man has become was already contained and programmed into the embryo. Jesus himself compared the kingdom of heaven to a small seed, but he said it was destined to grow and become a great tree on whose branches the birds of the sky would come to perch (Matthew 13:32).
Even if they are not the exact words that he used, what Jesus says in John's Gospel is important: "I have many other things to tell you, but you are not ready for them now (that is, you are not able to understand them); but the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will lead you to the whole truth." Thus, Jesus foresaw a development of his doctrine, guided by the Holy Spirit. It is plain why in today's Gospel reading the sending on mission is accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But is it true that the Christianity that we know was born in the third century, with Constantine, as is sometimes insinuated? A few years after Jesus' death, we already find the fundamental elements of the Church attested to: the celebration of the Eucharist, a Passover celebration with a different content from that of Exodus ("our Passover," as Paul calls it); Christian baptism that will soon take the place of circumcision; the canon of Scripture, which in its core stems from the first decades of the second century; Sunday as a new day of celebration that quite early on will take the place of the Jewish Sabbath. Even the hierarchical structure of the Church (bishops, priests and deacons) is attested to by Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century.
Of course, not everything in the Church can be traced back to Jesus. There are many things in the Church that are historical, human products, as well as the products of human sin, and the Church must periodically free itself from this, and it does not cease to do so. But in essential things the Church's faith has every right to claim a historical origin in Christ.
We began the series of commentaries on the Lenten Gospels moved by the same intention that Luke announces at the beginning of his Gospel: "So that you may know the truth of the things about which you have been instructed." Having arrived at the end of the cycle, I can only hope to have achieved, in some measure, the same purpose, even if it is important to recall that the living and true Jesus is properly reached not by history but through the leap of faith. History, however, can show that it is not crazy to make that leap.