Sunday, April 23, 2017

What hope looks like: Meeting us in the Question

Thomas: skeptical Thomas, questioning Thomas, empirical Thomas, hard-evidence Thomas

I think these titles might be more fitting for the infamous doubter. I find it bemusing that this weekend of the "March for Science," we encounter Thomas in our Gospel reading. Thomas gets a bum rep: unwilling to believe unless he can touch Jesus' risen body - presented as the opposite for all of us who believe without seeing...and, unwittingly, those of us who believe feel just a bit superior to poor Thomas.

This account was provided so that "you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this believe you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). Note that it's not provided to feel superior to an Apostle...and perhaps, there is a lesson for us who believe to help treat those who question with more mercy and understanding - just as Jesus did.

GospelJOHN 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.

Marielle Frigge (2016) provides a commentary of this weekend's readings in "Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word" that is so good, you need to read it for yourself:

During Jesus' mortal life, he performed various 'signs' that for those open to perceive, led to insight and ultimately, to faith in Jesus. For John, such believing deepened into the mutual indwelling of Jesus and the believer: the fullness of life, the human sharing in the divine life.
But after his death, Jesus no longer lived as a visible, mortal human being. His disciples then, as now, asked, "How is Jesus present to us now? Through what signs can he be revealed and encountered, that others may come to believe and participate in the divine life?"  
At the Last Supper, Jesus promised to send the Advocate (the Spirit) on his return to the God who sent him (John 14:16). In today's Gospel reading, the Risen Jesus fulfills his promise - sending forth the disciples as he was sent: they are now his relevatory sign."
In the post-Resurrection era, the Church is the presence of the crucified and Risen Jesus in the world, the tangible revelation of God's Word made flesh. 
Thomas doesn't doubt: he refuses to believe until he can experience the concrete, mortal body of Jesus, a sign in the manner he had known before.   
(Frigge, Park, Leal, 2016, p. 155-156)

That line: a sign in the manner he had known before... I am just really ruminating on that. Why did Thomas refuse to believe in the word of the others?

His heart had just been broken. His belief shattered by the death of Jesus. The disciples had hoped that Jesus would bring about a new era of Judaism - and, that was just destroyed by the cross. I think Thomas believed that Jesus was the Messiah; even that Jesus was who He said He was - the Son of Man/Son of God. How could he be dead? How could the Jews have triumphed in murdering the Messiah? How could God have allowed the death of his Son? How could anything be trusted, anymore? How could it be that Jesus was alive? This made no sense.

Thomas, like many of us when the foundation of our world - our hopes, dreams, perceptions of reality, have been shaken to the core, decides that until he can have empirical evidence (being able to experience him through his senses) that Jesus is fully alive, he will not enter into this madness. Of course Thomas had questions. Belief and reason no longer matched, in his mind. All that he had trusted in; all that he had understood to be't. or was it? What was true? What could be accepted?

I think it is important to note that Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds from the crucifixion. There was a rumor circulated by the Jews that the body of Jesus had been stolen - not resurrected. What if, Thomas reasoned that his peers, in their grief had hallucinated a risen Jesus? What if they wanted it to be true that he didn't die, and they just concocted this? What if someone tricked them, claiming to be Jesus - but wasn't - and the disciples just wanted it to be true - or they hadn't asked?

He wanted to be sure. He wanted to know - without a doubt - that it really was Jesus. He needed to encounter Jesus - not just hear of him from his peers.

Are you like that? Do you need to reassurance? Do you need proof? Do you need to touch? Do you need to encounter Jesus to believe?


You do.

I do.

We all do.

What is Jesus' response to Thomas' refusal to believe until?

Jesus - moved through pity, compassion, love and mercy [not chastisement - for Jesus recognizes the stumbling block to Thomas' faith and desires to remove it because he loves Thomas and wants only what is the best for Thomas - to know the truth and be set free by it]:

in the generosity of Jesus to Thomas, Thomas recognizes the presence of God in the transformed Jesus. He professes belief: My Lord and My God.

We don't even know that Thomas actually had to touch Jesus; in fact, I think he didn't. I think recognizing the character of the Father Jesus had revealed through his ministry once manifested before him was enough.
Jesus gently addresses Thomas' questions: "[Thomas], peace be with you. [Thomas, come]: put your finger here, see my hands, put your hand on my side. [Dear friend] Do not be unbelieving, but believe."

Jesus' willingness to reveal Himself (to Thomas), to meet him in his unbelief, to invite Thomas to experience Him (to belief): that was enough for Thomas to know (believe) beyond doubt that Jesus was more than just a man. He is who He said He was: God made man. He is risen from the dead!


1 comment:

PJ Colando said...

As I recall John wrote 60-70 years after the death of Christ. His purpose was to scribe his eyewitness, to negate and decry the doubting religious leaders who'd risen to the fore. Thomas' role amplifies the certainty that it happened. Yes, it did

I like your new names for Thomas, especially Empirical