Saturday, 6 April 2013

Do you know?

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 that this should be read as two separate Gospels - 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.

As I get older, my sympathies have moved closer to Thomas. It is easy to criticise him from here yet we still live a faith that seeks to evidence what we believe through scientific and philosophical reasoning. 

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. Anselm's quote 'Faith seeks understanding'  has real meaning for them - but they expect it to be empirical. 

So many 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, knuckled down 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.

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 without acknowledgement - 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 gets 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. 

Does it get rid of the doubt? Well at least what they get is some honesty - knowing that as a believer I need my questions more than I need to find the answers.  

The students are young - hopefully they are walking towards that personal experience;  but perhaps with gentleness and invitation, and a willingness to wonder,  they are a little nearer meeting Jesus, their Lord and their God, for themselves.


1 comment:

Lynda said...

Word, this is so beautiful and so real. What you do for your students is inspired because you give them credibility by discussing their concerns. Strong faith doesn't come without a struggle of some sort. It is good when young people question and it is better when an adult takes their questions seriously. Thank you for looking after your students with such integrity.