Second Sunday of Easter (April 8, 2018)
Do you remember when the worst thing was to doubt one’s faith -- a time when “faith” was thought to include all church pronouncements? Doubting was tantamount to denying the faith. The consequence was eternal damnation. We have long grown past that understanding.
In the Vatican II church we look at what we say we believe, and now understand that doubting can be very healthy. Working through our doubts gives us ownership of our faith. Frederick Buechner says it well: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.” They keep faith stirred up.
Our difficulties with faith are as much a part of becoming more faithful as the multiple falls a child takes when learning to walk. They strengthen our faith – as they did Thomas’. They can increase our understanding of the one who calls us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” They can help us to help others when they are troubled by doubt.
So, what about Thomas? Poor Thomas! All most people remember about Thomas is his short time of doubt. “Doubting Thomas” has become synonymous with being stubborn or a skeptic.
Why pick on Thomas? All the apostles were fearful. Today’s Gospel describes the evening of the day of resurrection. They had heard the report of Mary Magdalene in the early morning; they had heard the reports of the two on their way to Emmaus who had hurried back to tell them of their experience; they had heard the testimony of peter himself to whom Jesus had appeared sometime in between. Yet, the echoes of the murderous crowd in Pilate’s courtyard: “crucify him.” were still ringing in their ears as they huddled in fear.
Perhaps Thomas was the boldest, and the reason he was absent was that he was out at the local Wawa getting much needed supplies. Maybe Thomas’ doubt was not really doubt about the Lord, but doubt about the community who claimed he was alive. The cowering actions of the others belied their conviction that the resurrection was true. Jesus responded to his need.
We know that fear is the opposite of faith. [Remember Jesus walking on the water and Jesus’ identified Peter’s fear with lack of faith?]
The disciples, including Thomas, became fearless after Pentecost. They bolted from the room. They spread the good news not simply because they were told to, but because they were so enthused that they could not do otherwise.
We are the spiritual heirs of that community. At first, you and I received our faith by hearing the word from others - a kind of secondhand faith. Secondhand smoke is bad; secondhand faith is good, but it is only a stopgap form of faith. Later in life, we chose to accept for ourselves, to take ownership by what we had heard from our parents, teachers, others. We are like the townspeople speaking to the Samaritan woman; we can say: “No longer does our faith depend on your telling; we have found out for ourselves...” That is real faith.
We heard Jesus’ mission directive. “As the father sent me, so I send you” applies to us as well.
We need to witness, too. We cannot wait to witness until we are perfect and then invite folks. That day will never come. We have believed in spite of the mixed record of Jesus’ disciples that reaches back to the first ones.
Some of us are low-key; some, up-beat; some, contagiously enthusiastic. Whatever our personality, we are called to witness. The name for this is evangelization. Unfortunately, some associate this word with notorious, television preachers. “Evangelization” is simply church-talk for telling the good news – being a witness.
It does not mean that we have to know all the answers; the apostles did not.
It does not mean that we have to be perfect; the apostles surely were not.
It does not mean that that our leaders can solve all problems; surely they cannot.
It does mean that we witness to others that we have seen/experienced the Lord’s goodness and love.
What difference has reliving the resurrection really made in our enthusiasm during this past week? What has the Thomas in our family, development, and workplace experienced when they saw us after our experience of Easter?
I invite you, I challenge you, to celebrate the resurrection by reaching out with enthusiasm, to invite: “come and see,” to offer someone the life of the risen Jesus and the compassion and companionship of the community of us wounded healers
Thomas was habitually a questioner, perhaps less a doubter than a deep thinker. Perhaps he was the only one courageous enough to go out to the local Wawa for food.
Seeing is not believing. Observation is a form of scientific proof - Thomas got that. We, on the other hand, enjoy Jesus’ final beatitude: “blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed.” Paul says in Romans: “Faith comes from hearing.”
We may have become smug: I have the blessing of the final beatitude. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” I qualify; I have not seen the resurrection, yet I believe! How blessed I am! “Thank God I am not like the rest of men.”
Thomas’ second lesson: make sure when you have doubts that you are willing to doubt your doubts.