In Defense of Doubt.
First Reading Acts 5:27-32
Psalm Psalm 150
Second Reading Revelation 1:4-8
Gospel John 20:19-31
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Hallelujah!”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Apostle Thomas has gotten a bum rap. The patron saint of ‘seeing is believing’, he is forever known, because of the encounter we heard today, as ‘Doubting Thomas’. Perhaps we should review Thomas’ journey of faith, and see if he can be redeemed. If Thomas in his doubt can be redeemed, perhaps we too can be redeemed.
It was evening on the day of the resurrection. All of the disciples were in a locked room, except Thomas. We don't know were he was, but he was not there. The door was locked, probably out of fear of the still angry crowds, but the point is clear ... the door was locked.
The risen Christ appears to the disciples, minus one, and bids them peace. The disciples once called to follow, are now equipped to be sent. Jesus promised they would not face the world alone, and breathes His life into them with the Holy Spirit. As in Creation, the winds moved over the water, and God breathed breath into human nostrils giving us life. Jesus breathes out the life giving breath of the Holy Spirit to sustain us, to empower us to continue God's creative action, and to exhale that divine breath for the world to inspire. Jesus proclaims the Church's authority to forgive and retain sins. This sounds like an ominous burden, fraught with potential for human corruption. A better translation of the original text might suggest the power and responsibility to ‘lay bare’ and call out the goodness and evil in the world. After all, the forgiveness of sins is God’s, not ours. Which sins should we not forgive? Which sins would Jesus not forgive? We are called to mercifully continue Jesus’ work.
When Thomas finally returns, the disciples proclaim "We have seen the Lord!" Thomas’ response is almost obstinate. It seems he is calling his friends liars, or at least is suspicious of what might be called today, "fake news." In this encounter, we witness the first moment in a journey of faith. Thomas has experienced the risen Christ through others, he wants to believe, but will not believe until he sees for himself. He lays out his criteria for specific proof, and defines it as seeing the mark of the nails and putting his hand in Jesus' side. Thomas needs to see the evidence of death in one who is very much alive. He needs to know the one in the midst of them now is the one who called and brought them together then. This is an occasion for the risen Lord to be intimately identified, so that all of us who come after might embrace greater faith.
We should not judge Thomas so harshly. Thomas only wanted to experience the risen Christ as the others had. The other disciples already had the proof Thomas now demands. They had all seen the risen Lord. Would any of them have believed without seeing? Thomas was certainly not the only one who doubted, but was perhaps the only one who had the occasion or courage to state it out loud. Do we not long for such an encounter in our moments of doubt, to touch and be touched by the risen Christ?
Belief and doubt are not polar opposites, but inform each other as we journey in our faith. It is comforting to find that doubt is possible even among the disciples. It is encouraging that Jesus acknowledges the frailty of faith, and mercifully does not condemn, but consoles and companions.
A week passes, and the disciples have not tossed Thomas out of the community. Thomas and the disciples abide together in tension for a week. A whole week of the disciples rejoicing in the risen Christ, and Thomas sitting in a corner brooding, waiting to see for himself. Thomas did not leave. He did not give up. The disciples do not condemn him for his unbelief, but abide with him, probably encouraging him and hoping he will come around. Together, they are living our statement, "Wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome."
Jesus appears again, breaking the barriers of locked doors, fear, and doubt. This time, Thomas is present. Jesus offers them all peace, and offers Thomas the proof he needs. Thomas is drawn in by the marks of wounded humanity, and in a moment of conversion, proclaims, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas recognizes and worship Jesus, not just Jesus as Lord, but Jesus as God. Jesus' own words echo through this scene ... "I and the Father are one." Doubting Thomas has become Faithful Thomas.
Through Thomas’ journey of questioning and doubt, his faith has become deeper and stronger. Jesus encourages all of us who have not seen, to believe. He encourages us to reach deeper, farther in faith, beyond human limitation, requirement, and understanding.
Faith is not tested and strengthened without questions, the demand for proof, and doubt. The risen Jesus leads His fragile disciples through their hesitation into authentic faith. What do we need to believe? What do we need to sustain faith? Where does the mystery become so real for us that we cry out, "My Lord and my God!"?
Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto his people so that he remains with us always, even to the end of the age. Through the Holy Spirit, we encounter the risen Lord. No matter what doors humanity may lock, the resurrected Christ is free to come and go as he pleases. Have we not seen the risen Lord? In the absence of the physical Jesus, do we not encounter the living God through the Holy Spirit. Do we not encounter Christ in one another in the most ordinary and extraordinary ways?
Jesus breathes out his life giving Spirit, and his life begins to fill our lungs as we breathe in, standing in God's presence, inhaling the fragrance of God's own life. St. Augustine proclaimed this resuscitation in the 4th century, "You called me, you cried aloud to me, you broke my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me, your radiance enveloped me, you put my blindness to flight. You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odor. I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am inflamed with love of your peace." Thus is our journey of faith, filled with awe and wonder, fear and doubt, call and answer, proof and belief. God meets us, often in mysterious ways, where we need proof in order to believe, just as He met Thomas. If by God’s grace and mercy, Doubting Thomas can become Faithful Thomas, we too can be redeemed. Amen.