2nd Sunday Easter 2011 Doubting Thomas

I'm posting this reflection early as on Sunday I will be winging my way to the Vatican, Rome for the Bloggers Conference.

(Thanks to everyone who has been praying for me and for all the encouragement and support to go.   I will be praying for everyone when I arrive, please God !)

Mass readings and commentaries for Sunday are here.

My commentary for this Gospel from 2010 is here 

Gospel 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.


There is a saying that people will remember us by our scars not the medals we wear.

What a week ! I'm trying to imagine what the disciples must have been experiencing in these days after the crucifixion. 

The stark facts :
They had abandoned Jesus. Full of remorse, ashamed at  their show of cowardice at His trial, they had witnessed or heard of brutal scenes of torture and agonising protracted death of the one they had pinned their hopes and dreams on. They had given up everything to follow Him. 

He was dead .  Death, the great nullifier of all human endeavour had rendered all the actions and words of Jesus nothing more than one momentous failure.

Now they were frightened and full of grief. 
disconsolate and divided amongst themselves because they had been told by "us women" that they had seen the risen Lord several times. 

They didn't believe and now they were huddled and secluded, in secret, behind locked doors in an upper room to avoid getting arrested by the authorities in case they suffered the same fate as Jesus. 

The threatening world was locked out, 
but they were also locking themselves in,
afraid of what they had done or failed to do.

Colin Wilbourn's Upper Room.

The utter failure that the disciples must have been feeling was haunting them.  The facade of their strength and confident self image had been ripped apart. 

The light of their world was shattered.

 Locked room image from Way Out West Blog here

Then a miracle : Jesus came right into their gloom, stood beside them and said
"Peace Be with You."

What is so lovely about this story is that Jesus was not out to settle old scores, nor criticize or judge the disciples for their infidelity, desertion, betrayals, and denials ! 
Oh no - instead He shows himself full of compassion and the forgiving Son of God breathes on their shattered faith and , gives them a new spirit ! 

But one disciple, Thomas was absent so Jesus came again, just for him.

Jesus allowed Thomas  to touch his wounds and so too be opened and touched by his own woundedness, and  the broken relationship was restored.

(Left :Stelvio Gambardello The Incredulity of Thomas)

Thomas was willing to share his fear and confusion and his hands were able to delve deeply into the opening of the wounds of Jesus into the mystery of vulnerability and redemption.

We are afraid that our own wounds will keep people away from us, when often it is our wounds that create a pathway to relationship.

This is an extract from a great blog here 

"Even as I’m quick to cringe these days at church-speak, I’m haunted by the painful awareness that at times I reduced the vast mysteries of God’s mercy to some clichéd Christian catch-phrase.

I didn’t do it on purpose — no one does — I did it because it was comfortable. I used the words that everyone else used. 
Only problem was that none of us knew what they meant anymore, least of all me. The truth behind the words — good words like “grace” and “salvation” and “worship” — remained elusive.

Going beyond X and Y — putting stumbling words to our messy, murky, very human journey of faith and doubt — well, that’s a lot more vulnerable than most of us are willing to get a lot of the time. 
But if ever something was needed, it’s this kind of grappling with what we mean by these sacred words we use.

Yeah, it’s risky. We sound a lot less sure of ourselves. It doesn’t always make for a nicely-packaged Sunday sermon.

 But for the folks who show up to Sunday morning or to small group or to a coffee shop or to a bar to feel comfortable enough to share their own messy words, we have to go there."

In a great homily here by Jonathan Davis in a blog called Untying the Cerebral Knot he says :

"I don’t think that the heart of this passage is about doubt and laying guilt upon those who struggle to believe…I think this passage is about giving people what they need for life and then sending them out into that life with blessing."

Christian community isn’t about creating a  place where everyone is perfect – it should be a place where we can show our scars and our imperfections not parade our medals.

In the Celtic Daily Prayer, there is this simple exchange,
Question: What are the only human-made things in heaven? 
Answer: The wounds in the hands, feet, and side of Christ. 

Somehow we humans need a God with scars. 
Jesus’ familiarity and solidarity with our human condition did not end with his death. 

Scars are physical reminders of struggles we have endured, bodily and emotional, but they are also an essential part of the healing process. 

The scars of Jesus dignify the pain of all of us. Every person  is precious and beautiful to God, even if that beauty is scarred or locked behind layers of fear, chaos, and sin.

Time and time again He gives us the courage
and the resources to go and talk to others about what forgiveness and reconciliation means.

Jesus appears at the door of our locked panic rooms of defeat and says Peace, I’m here! He comes, not to turn our failures into success nor to make us immune to failure, or even take away the danger of failure.

He stands at our side in the hurt, to empower us in our discouragement, to strengthen us in our self-doubts. 
It is worth noting that despite the disciples visit by the risen Jesus and receiving his peace and the Holy Spirit, one week later they have once again locked themselves away behind a closed door !!

Jesus comes again and again to these scared and confused disciples, because freedom from fear, especially fear of death, is the great achievement and challenge of the resurrection. By conquering death, Jesus shifted the focus away from trying not to die, to learning how to live fully now. 

Because Jesus accepts us where we are, but also gives us the
strength to get where we need to be.
He  forever surprises us, keeping us off balance, by making it impossible to know
when, where, and how he will appear.

Jesus walks alongside us through the continuing revelations of sexual abuse of children, scandals and cover ups surrounding the Vatican. During the heat of the moment and anguish at continuing shameful revelations, we are tempted to applaud the statement made by Gertrude Boltz, a 63 year old woman visiting St. Peter’s Square from Austria on Easter, when replying to the question posed by a New York Times reporter on how the scandal had impacted her own personal faith, said, “To think of Jesus Christ is one thing…to think of the Vatican is quite another.”
In spite of our personal and institutional failings, the risen Jesus is not abandoning
us or our church. God will continue to come to us and help us open all our locked doors.

Christ will liberate us when we are trapped behind the barriers of fear and sin. Though the repercussions of this scandal are painful, they may give rise to the birth pangs of a new reform, a reverberation of the Easter message, that we are continually becoming a transformed people.

Easter isn’t just a single celebration, it’s a way of life. The resurrection assures us that
Jesus will appear in our dark moments of failure and humiliation, during those times
when we feel lost, forsaken, and beaten down, whose love can heal our deepest wounds, even when they are self-inflicted.

We look for a new outpouring of the Spirit, a spirit breathed out from the present day crucifixion of innocence in our church, just as Jesus breathed on the defeated disciples and resurrected them as bold, triumphant witnesses.

We pray for the repentance, renewal, and rebirth of our wounded Church in the same way we cry for our own repentance, renewal and rebirth. Already the scandal has left some scars and more are undoubtedly on the way, but as someone wisely said, being the "Church of Jesus Christ Superscar" , we should expect no less.

Thomas’ faith, was confirmed by experience, his doubt changed into certainty, and  Jesus’ humble acceptance to be once more tested by a human being. 
The meeting between Thomas and Jesus was all about Christ’s mercy and so is the meeting between  Jesus and every one of us here and now in our present time.

There is something very human, very genuine and very modern in Thomas’ attitude. I love him because of his honesty, his critical approach to the ‘stories about Jesus’ and his ability to change his own views…  He values his own experience.
He is not a naïve sheep. He does not believe in glib explanations or blind faith’ or ‘leaping into the unknown" 

Above : Caravaggio's painting of Thomas and Jesus
Thomas does not accept the truth only because other people say that it is truth. He needs to verify the core of his faith to check whether this core-faith is worth adhering to, dedicating your life to and proclaiming to others as the most important thing in life.

Faith, by nature, is a weak and fragile thing; and especially Easter faith, resurrection faith, because its always on the knife edge of death and life. 

Thomas, the twin. Thomas the doubter. Thomas the model disciple. 

His experience of Easter was to be two steps behind all the others, struggling with the dark tension of faith and doubt, refusing to settle for glib answers and second-hand experience - and the reward for his dogged integrity was to be two steps ahead by the time to story reached its climax and the awesome confession of faith from Thomas . My Lord and My God !

One thing is clear: it was Thomas’ doubt that got him there.

Wonderfully, but ironically, our doubts can bring us to faith.
Richard Holloway, formerly Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh made the mischievous suggestion that those who promote debate and change in both Church and society are the real people of faith.
By contrast, those who claim to be passionate believers in the ‘full faith’ and old values are motivated more by a doubt in the new than a trust in the old.

Thomas had an identical twin. We live with the almost identical twins of faith and doubt, often as inseparable and indistinguishable. 
If our faith is truly an Easter faith, then as it deepens and grows it will be for us a source of pain and darkness, perhaps as often as it is joy and light. 

But then as Thomas Merton said,‘Alleluia’ really is the song of the desert."

God exists independently of our perception.
Faith is something much deeper than imagination and feeling.

We live in a culture that, for the most part, no longer can even imagine the existence of God. Many basically conclude that God does not exist. 

I suspect that this is also true for many of us who are church goers. We live lives of quiet agnosticism (agnosticism meaning uncertainty about the existence of God). Our faith often feels like doubt. While we may have some vague notion of God while sitting in the pews, our everyday consciousness contains little of no awareness of God.

Our choices in life are often made from a place of personal desire rather than from a place of love. We have icons in our church but not in our hearts.

As a result, our religion has become compartmentalized and dogmatic. The joy, the hope, and the love of God in creation becomes a "wished for" commodity rather than a personal experience.

We "live and move and breathe in a cultural software that no longer gives us the tools to experience God" in our daily lives. The natural air that we breathe is agnostic, even atheistic. This is why it is such a struggle to imagine and feel God's presence

In his book, The Shattered Lantern*, Ronald Rolheiser claims that we have lost our natural ability to experience wonder, mystery, and the power and presence of God. Narcissism, pragmatism, and restlessness are the culprits that have muddied and reduced our perception of God.  

Pragmatism is another culprit in the faith journey. Pragmatism is a way of understanding the meaning of life in practical terms: What is true is what works! Worth lies in achievement. Things are good if they work and what works is considered good. The ideals of pragmatism lie at the very heart of the Western mind. Pragmatic thinking undergirds our technological society, controls our educational systems, and causes us to be impatient with anything (or anybody) that is not immediately practical, useful, and efficient.
On the one hand, there are many benefits to being practical or pragmatic. Medicine, travel, and technology, are largely the result of pragmatism and we all enjoy their benefits. 

Pragmatism enhances order and achievement. The problem that arises however, is when pragmatism rather than love becomes the central operating principle.

There is no place in a hard disk drive for a notion of Heaven and
if the pragmatic principle is "what is good is what works", then the reverse can become true: "You are only as good as the work you do." 

This wreaks havoc within our lives, especially if we become unemployed, disabled, retired, or sick. In a pragmatic society, we feel good about ourselves only when we do things that society values as good and important. 

We feel bad about ourselves when society does not view our contribution as being valuable. Professional goals take precedence over family life, personal virtue, leisure, and prayer. We pass this philosophy onto our children. 
At a very early age, we enlist our children into the rat race of life, making sure their time is filled up with prescribed lessons,  lessons, lessons, and more lessons. 

Before long, their natural ability to wonder and experience the mystery of God is worked out of them. 

They become human doings rather than human beings. 
In a pragmatic society, the scientific method takes centre stage and is viewed as the only trustworthy method for discerning truth. Science alone is given the right to establish the facts. Other disciplines (with a different method of knowing) such as philosophy, mysticism, poetry, metaphysics, or theology are considered to be purely subjective and thus are viewed as less important.  

Mark Patrick Hederman says in his book " Kissing The Dark, " We have a cultural bias in favour of the scientific way of seeking understanding everything. As long as we understand that bias, there is some hope of redressing the balance in favour of another kind of reality which is impenetrable by such a mentality and another kind of knowing which can open horizons beyond the world of facts, events and measurable data."

When a sense of self worth depends only upon personal achievement, it is hardly any wonder that very few people value spending  much time in prayer and contemplation. 

Prayer and contemplation are by definition non-utilitarian, pragmatically useless, a waste of time, a time when nothing is accomplished.

Faith is something much deeper than only imagination and feeling.
Faith is an orientation of the mind, the heart, the soul, and body, toward God, even in our dark and doubting moments. 
Jesus said: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." 

So despite our doubts it really is time to move on. "I believe. Lord help my unbelief."

These things did Thomas hold for real:
the warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
the grain of wood, the heft of stone,
the last frail twitch of blood and bone.

His brittle certainties denied
that one could live when one had died,
until his fingers read like Braille
the markings of the spear and nail.

May we, O God, by grace believe
and, in believing, still receive
the Christ who held His raw palms out
and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

Thomas Troeger

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