2nd Sunday of Easter, year A, 2014 (preached April 27, 2014)
first reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-32
second reading: 1Peter 1:3-9
gospel reading: John 20:19-31
Poor Thomas – he has such a bad reputation, the disciple who wouldn’t believe. HE is where we get the label “doubting Thomas.”
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
The testimony of the women from the tomb was not good enough for him. Even the witness of the other disciples wasn’t good enough. Thomas would not believe based upon the witness even of his most trusted friends.
Thomas was literally a “hands on” kind of guy. He needed to see and to touch in order for the resurrection to be a reality to him.
We might look down upon “doubting Thomas,” but I don’t think we should. Because I believe at the heart of it all, that each one of us could EASILY be him, if we aren’t already.
It’s easy to believe something that the majority of people believe. It’s easy to be part of a larger crowd of millions who worship and praise Easter Sunday.
For the most part, I don’t have to face scorn or ridicule from others about my belief in the resurrection, because honestly, many of the people I surround myself with believe in the resurrection too.
But that wasn’t the case for Thomas and the first disciples. They were ALONE in their belief. And not only were they alone, they were being hunted by the authorities – that’s why the doors were locked. That’s why they were afraid. People were LOOKING for them.
There were literally only a handful of believers then, and most of them were women! And the women would be no good at offering protection to these frightened men.
The truth was that almost all of the world as they knew it was against them and their crucified leader – a very far cry from the millions around the world who proudly proclaimed “Alleluia” last Sunday, and from the massive number that was gathered a few hours ago in St. Peter’s square. Their experience with mob mentality was “crucify him!” not “Christ is risen!”
The regular folks had hoped Jesus would lead a political revolt and he bitterly disappointed them. The religious leaders were embarrassed and threatened by the power Jesus had had with the regular people before the crucifixion, and they wanted him gone, both his physical presence and the peoples’ memory of him.
So what Thomas says, in effect, is, “If I’m going to put MY life on the line here, I want to be completely and totally sure this is all true.” Put in that perspective, I’m not sure that you and I wouldn’t have reacted the same exact way.
Thomas is every one of us – we live in a society where we want proof of everything. Although if we’re also honest, we have to admit that rumors get a lot of our attention too, and most of us enjoy a juicy piece of gossip – if not, all those tabloid magazines would be out of business.
But listening to rumors or sharing gossip is NOT the same as believing it, and risking our very lives for it.
Thomas needed proof – tangible, REAL proof. And the Lord gave it to him. Jesus doesn’t mock or rebuke Thomas for his unbelief. The Lord helps Thomas move BEYOND his doubting.
Jesus appears to all the disciples, and says directly to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
The next statement is precious because it was spoken just for us. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Then the gospel writer tells us, “These (things) are written so that YOU may come to believe… and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
We rely, we trust, in the witness of those early disciples, and the writers of the books and letters that have become our Bible. We believe their testimony, not just on paper in the New Testament, but also in the fact that they were willing to give THEIR lives for the gospel message.
Who would give their life for a lie? Why would they die martyr’s deaths if they thought or knew the resurrection was a hoax?
I don’t think the writers of the New Testament had any idea that the Church would be around 2,000 years after Jesus, but they knew it was important to write down their accounts for those who were NOT first-hand witnesses to the events that unfolded in Jesus’ life, death AND resurrection.
The telling of stories was extremely important in their day – the keeping of oral history – but thankfully they were also inspired to write at least some of those stories down for you and me.
I say “some of them,” because the writer of St. John tells us that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which were NOT written.
But we are grateful for what HAS been passed down to us, so that we may believe and have life.
Because now we are given the same task as those first disciples and every disciple since – to pass on the faith to future generations.
Easter is not a secret to keep to ourselves. It isn’t something to lock the doors behind. It is a joy so big that we cannot contain it!
In the end, Thomas is a wonderful example to us of honest doubt, or wrestling with faith, but also of bold proclamation, “My Lord and my God!”
This Easter, let us graciously receive the blessing given to those who have NOT seen, and yet believe.
Then, may we move beyond simply receiving, to GIVING and SHARING ourselves, so that other may come to know the Easter miracle of love, forgiveness and new life that Jesus gives to each one of us.
Let us not lock up our faith behind closed doors out of fear, but fling WIDE the doors and invite all to believe and have life in Jesus’ name.