Saturday, 30 April 2011

Yearning to believe

GospelJohn 20:19-31 

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:
‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

I have always thought of this as a two sided Gospel - that the gift of the forgiveness of sins and the doubtful Thomas make a complex passage for reflection. Especially as most homilies I have heard tend to concentrate on Thomas and his unfortunate  reputation. I was reminded today that whenever I have seen an either/or in the Gospels that I should look for a both/and. Thomas and the forgiveness of sins belong together.

I have to admit that my sympathies have lay more and more with Thomas over recent years. It is easy to criticise him now that we imagine we understand the Resurrection. Although I would sincerely question how we could ever truly understand the Resurrection? Perhaps we have been taught to believe, have accepted the evidence of others to give us a faith that we could never have imagined for ourselves.

I sympathise mostly because of repeated conversations with my students, particularly the older ones,  when they demand proof that Jesus exists; that God exists; that heaven exists. They are studying Theology but they don't believe it - it doesn't give them answers.

Lots of Thomases making the same demands as two thousand years ago and who, really, can blame them? They live in a world of cynicism and disbelief; they live in a world that, as far as they can tell, hasn't benefited much from the Resurrection even if it did happen. There is still suffering; bad things still happen.

Although there is a lot of bravado when challenging authority; there is something else in their challenge that wants to be comforted and proved wrong. False hope is far worse than no hope and this is what Thomas fears. As he was away from the group; it seems that he had managed to find some reason to carry on; caring for others in the community, getting supplies? However he feels inside; he has started to rebuild himself; he has put on the brave face and put away hope. A survival instinct that is not always healthy but is all too common.

His grief has sent him so far outside himself that only the physical presence of his Risen Lord will bring him back; the words of reassurance that tell him it is true.

Blessed indeed are those whose sense of God allows them to 'just know'. Although who can say if the time will come when 'just knowing' will not be enough?

An option with the students is to withdraw from the debate; to suggest that 'we have a lesson to finish'; that it can't be discussed now; that perhaps they should talk it over with their family. To blame them for their doubts as we so readily blamed Thomas. If I just give their doubt back to them - would this be retaining their sins; would this be keeping them from a Truth that  they deserve  as much as I do? Is this the link?

I saw a cartoon recently where Thomas was challenging the Twelve - 'How come you never get 'denying Peter' or 'Runaway Mark?'.

And it's true; their 'sins' have been forgiven -why not Thomas? Because doubt is a dangerous emotion in a group of believers; especially believers who have doubted themselves. Doubters are mirrors to our own anxieties; our own disbelief echoed back to us.

But what else can I do? What I do is try to be some sort of witness; which  is difficult because that means giving  them 'me' - why I believe; things that have gone wrong in my life; where God was when they happened;  I have to be  vulnerable to them (nerve-wracking I have to admit) -  letting them have the opportunity to look at my wounds and my scars. Being as open in my faith around them as I would be with my church friends.

Does it get rid of the doubt? Well at least what they get is some honesty and that helps- knowing that even believers don't have all the answers.  They will always need that personal experience but perhaps with gentleness and invitation, instead of accusation and blame they are a little nearer meeting Jesus, their Lord and their God, for themselves.



Mari said...

"blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." - Sometimes I don't know if just knowing and believing will be enough for generations to come. I feel as though we as church are not keeping this faith alive as much as we need to.

Word in the Hand said...

And how do we do that Mari? I think in the past, certainly when I was younger, we did a lot by example without really realising it because that was how communities were and faith was as part of it.
Now, even in my Catholic school we do a lot about social justice but often forget to mention Jesus and we hardly ever talk about having a personal relationship with him. I don't know if I would still believe if I hadn't be blessed enough to 'meet him'.
But we can't give up - we have to be full of the energy that the Resurrection gives us.
Prayers and blessings Mari +x

claire said...

false hope. I thank you for this, word. Thomas does not want false hope. He does not want to engage in 'groupthink.' He wants to make sure for himself...
Don't we all? Don't we often wonder whether we believe or make believe?
Thank you again.