Sunday, April 19, 2009

Do Not Be Unbelieving, But Believe!

John 20:19-31 On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."
But he said to them,
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe."

Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.


In all three years of the liturgical cycle, this is the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter, and "Doubting Thomas" is the focus of the story.

Is there anything positive to be said about doubt?  Of course there is!   It's a good thing to be able to question yourself -- your thoughts, your feelings, your plans, your motives.   Just don't it become addictive, so that you can't move at all, because you can't decide which direction to move in.

That attitude is really not doubt at all, but fear.  The real obstacle to faith is not doubt, but fear.  It is fear that makes us run away from danger.  It is fear -- terror, actually -- that causes some folks to curl up under the blankets, head buried beneath the pillow, and never get out of bed.   Faith, on the other hand, encourages us to take chances, to accept risks, to challenge obstacles, to overcome difficulties. 

Thomas, called "the Twin", was not fearful.  When he heard Jesus say that he was going up to Jerusalem, and that he would be put to death there, Thomas said to his fellow disciples, "Let's go up to Jerusalem, and die with him!"  (John 11:16)

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the nailmarks, and my hand into his side, I'm not ready to believe!"  It's not that Thomas lacked faith,  it's just that he wasn't going to take anyone else's word, he wanted to see for himself.   When Jesus appeared, and invited him to put his finger in the place of the nails, and his hand in the wound in his side,  Thomas didn't have to do that: He saw, and he believed. 

The writer of this gospel, John the evangelist, "the disciple whom Jesus loved", expresses a similar attitude in the introduction to his first Letter:   "What we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have observed, and touched with our own hands, that is our topic." (1 John 1:1)  We mustn't blame Thomas for wanting to experience the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus through his own experience.  That is what every disciple of Jesus needs to do!

Thomas was not a doubter, but a thinker.  He needed to figure things out and understand them.  Once, Jesus was talking about going away, and said, "You know the way to where I'm going."  Thomas cut in, boldly, "Lord, we don't even know where you're going, so how could we know the way?"  (John 14:4-5) It was a very sensible comment; Thomas was puzzled, he wasn't doubtful.  We ought not to call him "Doubting Thomas"; we should rather call him "Thinking Thomas."

There is no area of human experience more subject to delusion than religion.  That is why the institution which started out on the day of Pentecost as the One True Church, is now a pot-pourri of sects which alter to suit the preferences of the members.   There is a church for folks who believe that Jesus is truly present in the bread and wine.  In fact, there are several: some consider that Jesus is present, and the bread and wine have been transformed into his body and blood; some consider that Jesus is present, and the bread and wine are still present; some consider that the bread and wine are present, as symbols of the presence of Jesus in the church.    Theologically, the three theories cannot all be true.  That's not logical, Captain! 

Every one of us has had questions, and still have questions.  All too often, we accept answers that don't really make sense to us.  Or worse, we stop asking questions because no one on earth can give us satisfactory answers. At the end of the day, it's not a matter of knowledge -no one except God can know God completely.  It's a matter of faith.  Still we need to share in the inquisitiveness of Thomas, and keep on asking Jesus and the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, until we are comfortable with our understanding of the truths of faith.   And, on this Mercy Sunday, we should be especially grateful that one of the greatest of God's gifts to his children is his willingness to forgive our sins.    As a theologian who was both a doubter and a sinner himself once wrote,  "Why did God create us?  He created us in order to forgive us." 
(St. Augustine of Hippo) 

1 comment:

Crossbeak said...

I learned about "The Doubting of St. Thomas" by Michelangelo Merisi, aka Caravaggio, from my daughter. I have grown fond and sentimental with his portrayal of "The Doubting of St. Thomas. Today I posted an image of the painting on my blog at
Hope you like the painting. Happy Easter to all...