Who Can Overcome the World?

Who Can Overcome the World?

Second Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday). Fr David Sanders suggests that the effects of greed in our world can only be overcome by the power of the Resurrection.

In St John’s Gospel Jesus says ‘I have overcome the world’. He means the world in so far as the world is marked by sin and death. And that world is all around us. Sin is obvious in a world torn by wars and famine, and a refusal by the rich to share God’s gifts more equitably with the poor. It is a world which in recent times has come crashing down. And when we ask what is behind the fall of banks, the craving for endless profit, the determination for an elite to take huge bonuses despite their failure we receive a unanimous answer: the world has been destroyed by the sin of  greed.

That sinful world gathered its forces to destroy Jesus during his last week in Jerusalem. It infiltrated his closest disciples. We are told that Satan entered into Judas. Recently commentators have tended to psychologise Judas’s sin, to see him as victim, a man with good intentions just trying to force Jesus’s hand so he would go public as Messiah. The ‘Credit Crunch’ makes us more attentive to the stark words of the Gospel: Judas was a thief, with his hand in the till and ready to betray his friend for money, thirty pieces of silver. Greed precipitated Jesus death.

On the cross we see the effects of sin on Jesus body, the destructiveness of  greed and violence. But we also see in his death Jesus’s desire to lay down his life for his friends, to give himself fully, body and blood. And then, in the Resurrection that love is vindicated when the Father raises him to life and Jesus is exalted, victorious over death and sin.

Today in the Gospel the disciples are still weighed down by their failure, turned in on themselves, imprisoned by fear behind closed doors. And Jesus appears to them. Twice he greets them with the peace he had promised to give them at the Last Supper. This is no ghost. He shows them it is the same Jesus who was crucified, by revealing his wounds, the cost of his victory.

But if the Easter gospel tells us again and again of the fact of the Resurrection, the historical fact that the crucified Jesus has risen from the dead and is now alive, we must also ask what are the implications of the Resurrection? What difference does it makes for us?

It is not just the resurrection of a single individual. St John emphasises that the only way we can understand the Resurrection is to place it in the context of  God’s creation. Just as God breathed his spirit over the waters at the beginning of creation so now the risen Christ breathes upon this fearful group of failures. God is acting again; it is a new creation. The disciples receive the very same spirit which Jesus possessed. The immediate effect of this gift is to recreate them as a new community, the Church. This new beginning is the work of the Holy Spirit. The disciples are forgiven, Jesus accepts them, without recrimination: all their failures are wiped out. And they are given the power to forgive others, ‘whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven’.

The joy of the Resurrection opens their hearts, takes away their fear and prepares them to take the Gospel to the world as Jesus commands ‘As the Father sent me so I am sending you’

And if we want to see the power of the Resurrection working through this new community in the world we must turn to the Acts. Here we see not a group of individuals but a community baptised into Christ and through the gift Holy Spirit reflecting the image of God’s son.  They testify to the Resurrection not just by words but by what they do. They share what they have. Their possessions become a symbol of their resurrection faith. We are told ‘Everything was owned in common’ and ‘they distributed their money to any member who was in need’.

Our world is still marked by the destructive effects of sin but in the Resurrection of Jesus sin and death have in principle been defeated. We are sent to continue Jesus’s saving work of healing the world and to live in hope of its final consummation in glory. We are called to testify to the Resurrection by working today to defeat, among other evils, the destructive effects of greed in the church and in the world. In so far as we live out this faith in Jesus’s Resurrection  then will the words of St John come true:

 ‘This is the victory over the world – our faith.’
Readings: Acts 4:32-35 | 1 John 5:1-6 | John 20:19-31

fr. David Sanders died in March 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. May he rest in peace.