Wednesday, April 19, 2017

So That You May Believe: Speaking to the Soul, April 19, 2017

Thomas touches Jesus's hands. From the public domain.

The gospel for the second Sunday of Easter centers on the story of Thomas the Twin, who, logically enough to most of us, wants to see proof that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Every year, this is the gospel we get on this Sunday, and a lot of people just dismiss Thomas as someone whose key characteristic is his doubt, rather than his faith. And that seems pretty hypocritical, to be honest. Thomas is more a skeptic in this story than a person with no faith. A faithless person would have left the apostles’ fellowship and gone his own way. And that makes Thomas a comforting figure to so many people who try to take their faith seriously enough to hold it up to scrutiny.

We ourselves live in a time that is supposedly “post-factual,” in which we are told that there are “alternative truths.” Just a couple of weeks ago, we heard Pilate carelessly toss off an all-too-modern, sarcastic question: “What is truth?”

Yet it’s Thomas who gets the denunciatory moniker. Which of us wouldn’t have felt cheated, like Thomas did, for having missed seeing the real Jesus standing among the other disciples, and instead hearing this incredible story second-hand? Those other apostles expected Thomas to believe when they themselves had the comfort of witnessing their risen Lord in the flesh. Thomas may have doubt- but he has hope as well, or he wouldn’t express his skepticism in the first place.

The word “believe” is repeated over and over again in this coming Sunday’s gospel, we are told that the apostles are being allowed to see these things “so that you may come to believe.” This is a phrase that John’s gospel uses often, actually—Jesus says it at the raising of Lazarus, at the betrayal by Judas, and here it is repeated again by the gospel writer.

Being a Christian 2000 years later means believing without seeing with our eyes, but instead with our hearts.

It means being willing to sit – even companionably at times—with our own doubts. It means being willing to confront the same kind of protests that Thomas is brave enough to speak aloud. There are all kinds of contradiction here. The disciples have been told that the thing that should bring them the most joy in the world has actually happened, but they respond by locking their doors for fear in the first verse of the gospel that we hear today. They should be shouting alleluias all over Jerusalem. Instead they themselves are cowering behind locked doors. That fearful barricading behind doors is certainly an expression of their own doubts, even after they themselves have seen Jesus in the flesh. And yet, Thomas down through history takes the rap for his boldness in speaking aloud his need for proof. Thomas’s challenges echo even as the alleluias have just been brought out of storage by us. How can alleluia and doubt exist side-by-side?

The real question might be, how could they NOT? The alleluias we will sing for the rest of Easter and ordinary time are themselves actually acts of rebellion that fly in the face of too much in our everyday experience that closes our hearts to the mystery and miracle of God’s love in our lives. If Thomas can be forgiven and loved despite his questions and doubt, so can we all. Jesus patiently acknowledges and satisfies Thomas’s, and our own, human tendency to want proof. Yet even in that demand for proof, Thomas demonstrates a willingness to have himself be opened to new possibilities. And that’s a lesson for us as well. And maybe the alleluias will help carry us until we get to that place where we can hold our own doubt and skepticism up to the light, and still continue on, despite all opposing forces to walk the path of discipleship. Alleluia!

(This was first published on the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul for April 19, 2017.)

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