|Date:||April 22-23, 2017 Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, Cycle A|
Did anyone here ever think that they wanted to be just like St. Thomas?
The Apostle Thomas, like Mary Magdeline, has been negatively characterized over the centuries without any scriptural basis. During formation, I had the pleasure to have Celia Sirois as one of our teachers. She is one of the best scripture scholars in the Archdiocese and a wonderful teacher. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak or take a course from her, jump on it. One of the things that she said over and over was when in doubt about the meaning of a scripture passage, trust what the scriptures say; read the text.
What do the scriptures actually say about Thomas? There are only three references to Thomas. The first is in the story of the raising of Lazarus, when Jesus tells the disciples he is going back to Bethany, they all try to change his mind since he would be going back to where the people tried to stone him. Only Thomas steps up and says, "then let us go with him, to die with him."
The second is in John's version of the Last Supper where in response to Jesus telling the disciples that he is going to his Father, that "where I am going you know the way." Thomas says to him, "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Thomas speaks the question that all the disciples have in their hearts but are afraid to ask.
And here in this story, the rest of the disciples are shut up in a room, afraid to show their faces for fear of the authorities arresting them. Only Thomas has the guts to go out and about. Then he goes back to the room and the disciples, still hiding behind locked doors and windows, tell him they have seen the risen Christ. But Thomas is not convinced. He states what he needs in order for him to believe. When Jesus re-appears and gives him what he has asked for, he believes wholeheartedly, kneeling and calling Jesus God - the only person in the Gospels to do so explicitly.
I think we often jump to the conclusion that Thomas is singled out as the unbeliever, compared unfavorably to the disciples who had seen Jesus. I don't think the story supports that at all. In the first place, the other disciples were not among "those who have not seen and have believed" were they. They had seen the risen Lord. And if the truth be told, they were not acting in a way that showed they believed. The Greek word translated here as belief means more than our common meaning of intellectual assent. It contains strong overtones of obedience and trust, implying an assent of head and heart that leads to a change in behavior. Using that definition of believing, what evidence does this story give us that the disciples who saw Jesus really believed? Nothing had changed in their behavior. They were still cowering and confused. It would be another month or so before they got what they needed to really believe, when the Spirit would come and fill their hearts and minds and bodies with the courage to proclaim the good news. I think it is safe to say that Thomas could not believe the other disciples because they were not acting as those who had seen Jesus raised from the dead. They were still afraid, still locked up in the room.
Somehow when we hear Jesus say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed", we extrapolate that he must mean that those who need to see to believe are less blessed. But he says nothing of the kind. He explicitly comes to give Thomas the proof he needs to believe. I think Jesus knows perfectly well from his human experience that most humans need to see in order to believe wholeheartedly. And since humans are that way because God made us that way, I don't think there is anything wrong with it. That is the whole reason for the Incarnation, and the whole reason for the Church and the sacraments: God wants us to believe because we have a humanly visible experience of God. To tell the truth, I don't know anyone who lives a life that shows they believe in Christ who hasn't had a humanly sensible experience of Christ. I don't think that is humanly possible.
So I think today's scripture says two very important things about Thomas for us. First is that we would do well to strive to be like Thomas: honest enough to admit we need proof to believe wholeheartedly, perceptive enough to figure out what that proof is, and then bold enough to ask God for it. I think this story gives us the hope that God will give us what we need.
Secondly it reminds us that others need to see Christ in order to believe. We are called as a community to be the body of Christ in whom others can see in order to believe. That is the reason this parish exists: to be the Risen Christ in Stow in 2017.
Remember all those other people who were here last week? Where are they this week? If we are honest about it, aren't most of us thinking that they are the ones who don't believe? That we are the ones who believe without seeing? But what if the truth is that, like Thomas, they came here looking for, hungry for, some evidence that Christ really did rise from the dead and all they found were a bunch of people who say they have seen Christ alive but give little or no evidence of it in how we live? Can we honestly say that we live like a people who have experienced the risen Christ? That we love one another, and as we heard in the first reading from Acts, that share what we have with each according to his need? If we don't believe like that, how can anyone see the risen Christ in us so that they can believe?
So let us strive to be like Thomas: to admit it when we don't believe but to ask God for what it would take to make us believe. And when God gives that to us, let us live out of that belief so that others can encounter the risen Christ here and now.