1 John 5:4-10 / John 20:19-31
Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
How do we expect conquerors to behave? Rather, how ought they to behave? We know all too well how victors can and do act. Perhaps out of fear of needing once again to go to battle, perhaps as a release of tension under which they had lived for far too long, perhaps indulging wicked desires that fear of failure had held in check, or perhaps for any number of reasons neither we nor they can name, victors in even otherwise just causes have a terrible tendency of engaging the worst kind of behavior, the most reprehensible kind of license on those whom they have overcome. For some, were it not that the evils defeated are altogether worthy of conquest, this horrifying display of cruelty and arbitrary violence by the conqueror is reason enough to avoid the battle altogether.
So, it comes perhaps as something of a surprise to hear that we are, in fact, victors, conquerors, soldiers on the winning side. Even granting that the battle was won altogether by our head, Jesus Christ, we are nonetheless reminded by St John that the victory is ours, the spoils our ours. To believe that Jesus is the Son of God, to have a saving faith in the work and more than that in the person of the Savior, is itself to have overcome, to be victorious. This is a surprise because many of us might expect that the world in general, and rather more pressingly our personal world, ought to look far less problem-free if we were in fact victors. We might have little trouble accepting that, in the midst of an ongoing war, the battlefield will be less than pristine. To discover that the enemy has been defeated and put to flight, but still to witness a world that, from our best lights, looks like a world in conflict where the victor is uncertain, can by more than a little unsettling.
Yet, this is where our problem begins. In fearing that Christ's work on the Cross and his rising victorious from the Tomb is not enough, in worrying that we need to hold tightly, and defensively, to guard and protect any little gain we think we have made in what we imagine to be an ongoing war, we become all too willing to absolve ourselves from a vicious kind of ruthlessness against those who recently have, or still continue to, oppose our vision. Like undisciplined soldiers set free to pillage as a reward for our victory, we try as we can to humiliate our enemy, and all those who have collaborated with him. We do not want to have to fight this fight again, and we will accept almost any means to avoid fighting it again.
Even so, the Good News of this Octave Day of Easter, the eighth day of the Eighth Day, the renewal of that victory we celebrated so joyously only a week ago, is that we not only can, we must be gracious victors. In our faith in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, we have already won, already overcome. The spoils are already ours, and there is no fear that this victory won will one day be lost. We not only can, we must, in light of the glory of the Resurrection, be gracious, kind, and full of clemency to those who have in the past or even now make common cause with our defeated enemies — Sin, Hell, and Death. We may pity them that they want to continue a lost cause. We may need now and again to restrain their ultimately vain attempt to restore their masters to power. What we must not do is relinquish our joy in the victory of Jesus Christ, and thus we must never fail to forgive, never fail to show largesse and forebearance even where we had and have been shown none.
This is our victory day! This is the eighth day of the Resurrection, a sign to the world of Christ's lasting victory over his enemies, what would be, if they were open to it, their joy and victory as well. Can we be gracious to those who have opposed us, and who oppose us still? Can we, confident that we cannot lose what Christ has won, open our hearts even most generously and with heartbreaking generosity to those who would insist on making themselves our enemies?