“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” What a nice way to end a book, wouldn’t you say? Well, it’s looks like John thought so, and then thought “Doh! I forgot to write about the time on the Sea of Tiberius with the fishing and the grilling and Jesus was there and oh, I’ll tack it on.” Maybe Thomas and Peter read the first draft and made John tack on the bit about how everyone wasn’t arguing anymore and how Peter and Thomas were forgiven for their respective denying and doubting.
At the end of every Mass we hear the Last Gospel, and with very, very few exceptions, it’s the beginning of the Gospel according to John. But we hear this passage from John, from the end of his Gospel, on every Easter II, on the Sunday that follows Easter. It must be an important passage; there must be something in it that we need to hear each year, something important to the faith.
Truth is, there are at least three things in this passage that are crucial to the Faith. The first important thing is that the disciples were an interesting group of people. Among them were fishermen, a zealot, a tax collector, and a nobleman. They were bull-headed, fiery, cowardly, wise, traitorous, unbelieving, loving, and any number of other things, good and bad. Several among these people would not, under ordinary (or somewhat extraordinary) circumstances, be found dead in a room with the others. And yet there they were, huddled together in an upper room, sharing a collective shock over a crucified Master, an empty tomb, and the fact that all of them were showing up on the walls of Jewish Post Office. These were the people closest to Jesus in His earthly life, and they were essentially useless.
The second important thing here is the sheer fact that Jesus, though He should be dead, is alive. And not only is He alive, but even while bearing the marks of His betrayal, He makes His way to see His old friends. Jesus walks into the midst of them, He proclaims peace, and He breathes on them the actual breath of life. Jesus knows that His presence is going to be mind-blowing, so He takes His time with His disciples, He brings them along the best He can, and then He even comes back a while later to see the guy who missed Him the first time! Most of this passage centers around Thomas, who famously missed Jesus and then declared himself a skeptic until he saw for himself the fantastical stuff his friends were telling Him. How Jesus approaches Thomas is of crucial importance. Remember that Jesus and Thomas know each other, they’ve spent the better part of the last three years with each other, and so both of them would have some expectations of the other. Thomas would, of course, trust Jesus, but he didn’t necessarily trust the ten other guys they hung around with, and so Jesus gives Thomas a break, even if He tweaks him a little bit. “You wanted to touch these wounds, right?” you can almost hear Jesus saying to Thomas, “well go ahead, touch ’em!” I like to think of this as an exchange between two friends, one of which happened to be the risen Son of God. “My Lord and my God” is really the only appropriate response, and Thomas nailed it.
The third important thing here is what John is doing at the end of his Gospel account. “These are written,” wrote John, directly to us, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” John’s book had a purpose, that being to lead you to believe that there is a Messiah, a Savior who is the Son of the Living God; that Jesus is this Messiah, God incarnate, God made flesh; and that the reason any of this happened at all is so that “believing, you may have life in his name.” John didn’t write his Gospel for fun, he didn’t write it to record some nice sayings from a wise teacher. John wrote his Gospel so that you (he uses the word you) will come to know God as He is revealed in Jesus, and that so knowing, you may also have the life John has, that you may also breathe in that same breath of life.
So I guess this is an important passage for the week after Easter. John tells us, in a matter of a few sentences, that the disciples were no better than the rest of us, that Jesus loves us anyway, and that once you have the life that can only be found in Jesus’ Name, you can’t help but let everyone know about that life. This would be a nice way to end a story, but John couldn’t help but tell us more; what more do you have to tell about the life you have found in Jesus’ Name?