SUNDAY SCRIPTURE

Great numbers were added to them

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In today’s first reading, St. Luke tells about the church in the months after Jesus’ resurrection. It was just one community, made up of a few thousand Jewish believers in the city of Jerusalem. Luke says the community was filled with “signs and wonders.”

The Holy Spirit was acting so powerfully through the apostles that, as Peter walked down the street, his shadow might bring healing to people with physical and mental disorders. Astonishing!

Less obvious but equally remarkable is the way Luke describes the effect of these miracles. “Believers in the Lord,” he says, “great numbers of men and women, were added to them” (Acts 5:14).

That’s a complicated and somewhat odd way to put it. I would have expected Luke to say that “many people came to believe in the Lord” or “the number of believers increased.” Why does he say, “believers in the Lord were added to them”?

The reason is that this group of Jewish believers, baptized into Jesus, was so closely connected to Jesus -- or, we could say, Jesus was so closely connected to them -- that “added to them” and “joined to him” were alternate ways of expressing the same reality.

This deep presence of the risen Jesus in the community of his followers is also communicated in today’s other readings.

In the second reading, John describes a vision of Jesus in heaven. He is dressed as a priest, surrounded by lampstands. The lampstands symbolize the communities of Christians to whom John is writing.

The vision assures them that Jesus is in their midst. He keeps the lamps on the lampstands burning, that is, he gives them his power and peace to face the opposition they are experiencing.

In the Gospel, Jesus appears to his disciples on the evening of his resurrection. He breathes his Spirit into them and authorizes them to grant his forgiveness to sinners. He will be so present in them that his forgiveness will come to people through their words.

Today is designated “Sunday of Divine Mercy.” We could also call it “Sunday of Jesus’ Presence in the Church.” Because he is so present, we who live centuries after his resurrection can encounter him, receive his forgiveness and healing, and be strengthened to meet our difficulties in the power of his Spirit.