Second Sunday of Easter, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
Have you ever had a nickname? Maybe something from childhood that you couldn’t ever get rid of, or something from school based on that silly thing you did just that once? I am the only son in my family, with three sisters, and the only blond besides my mother. So, I can tell you that one nickname I got a lot growing up was, “the golden child” because, according to my sisters, I was very spoiled and of course my golden locks didn’t do me any favors to dissuade the name. Now I don’t necessarily agree with this, but that’s the thing about nicknames, right? They aren’t always what we would choose.
I feel bad sometimes that Saint Thomas the Apostle is remembered mostly for this single passage of the Gospel of John. What about the time in John chapter 11 where Thomas says to the other disciples, and I’m paraphrasing here, that they should follow Jesus back to Judea even if it means dying with Jesus. Or the time in John chapter 14 where Thomas asks Jesus to clarify, telling Jesus plainly that they just don’t understand what he is saying. What about the other apostles? We don’t call him Denying Peter, or how about Faithless Peter when he fails to walk on water because he does not have faith?
I think sometimes nicknames stick because they mean a whole lot more to the people who give them than the people receiving them. Imagine everyone saying, “oh yeah. That Thomas. He totally didn’t believe as well as I do.” And deep down knowing that doubt is still present. In fact, to be quite honest, it’s not like Thomas does anything extraordinary in doubting what the disciples have said. We all have doubts about things in life. It’s not as if it’s a foreign concept to us. So let’s take another look at today’s Gospel.
We start off the story in a moment of great fear. This is the evening of that same day that Mary Magdalene has found the tomb empty, and has been sent by Jesus to be the first evangelist, proclaiming the resurrection to the other disciples. Now presumably she has already told these disciples that Jesus has risen, and here they are behind locked doors. They are afraid. They fear those that murdered their leader, even though they have heard he is risen. There has to be a lot of confusion. A lot of, “what do we do now?” either about the ministry of Jesus or that he is risen. Then, though the doors are locked, Jesus shows up in the midst of the group, and we have, in John’s narrative, the beginning of the Church as Jesus breathes out the Holy Spirit on his disciples.
Now, Thomas is not with them. We don’t know why, and I’m not entirely sure it’s helpful to speculate, but he’s just not there. So when he shows up, they tell him about what they have seen. Thomas, in that moment, doubts the disciples. He doubts that what these other people are telling him are true. He doesn’t see Jesus at the same time they did and doubt, he doubts the disciples. This starts more than two thousand years of getting a bad nickname. But as far as I can tell, once Jesus appears to Thomas, just as he did to the other disciples, Thomas has no doubts. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” The other disciples in the room are not among those who have not seen and yet have come to believe, just in case we’re still keeping score.
It occurs to me that doubt is one of those funny things that is important to our development, to our life, to our safety at times. It’s like fear. It has its helpful place in making sure that we can survive at a very basic, animalistic level. But doubt is equally unhelpful. At times, it is crippling. Doubt can keep our hands shaking, our voice silenced, our faith dampened. And yet, every great beginning, every new idea, every first undertaking has an element of doubt in it. Every blossom of faith has doubt, and has opportunity to grow into something beautiful. Without doubt, faith can twist itself into zealotry.
So before you start trying to remove doubt from your life, remember that it is part of our human nature. Our mortality calls us to question every action, to ponder every past, to dream every future, and yet at the same time to live in the moment, make a decision, and stay the course. It is the fear fed by too much doubt that can keep us from living out our call as Christians. I believe we should always temper ourselves by doubt, allow questions to be asked of us, to ask questions ourselves because it so often will lead us to greater depths of our own faith.
Doubt, in the right dose, leads to greater faith. For Thomas it certainly did. In our pursuit to follow Christ there will be doubt. There will be times when you feel like Thomas, late to the meeting and skeptical of the outrageous claims of others, but there will also be times when you feel like Mary, having already met Jesus on the road, proclaiming the good news, and waiting for the other disciples to get it. Do not let doubt become fear, do not let doubt overwhelm, but do allow for questions. Be ready to exclaim again and again like Thomas, “My lord and my God” when God shows you the answers to your doubt.
Now, let me say something else about doubt. Your own doubt is yours to grow around. The other side of this story about Saint Thomas is that I always wonder if he doubted because the disciples weren’t acting as if their teacher has resurrected and bestowed the Holy Spirit on them. As followers of Christ I believe we have to hold these two things in tension: The first is there are things that you will doubt. Seek the truth when you do. When someone tells you what they think Jesus means dig deeper to know your faith. Ask questions, pray, discern. Let doubt drive you to build your faith greater and greater. The second is that we should not live our lives in a manner that causes others to doubt. We should not provide a reason for someone to look at us and wonder whether we truly know that Jesus Christ has risen, that Hell and death and sin are defeated, and that God’s love is eternal and for all of creation.
If we are here to proclaim the salvation of all creation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we must live our life in ways that do exactly that. If we believe that God’s love has overcome the darkness, how do we reflect that out into the world? Thomas only doubted for a time, but then he set himself to work as an evangelist when it had passed. Jesus Christ has ascended, and has left the Holy Spirit to guide us, to inspire us, to empower us to continue the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Harness the energy of your doubt to strengthen your faith, to shine brighter for those who have lost their way in more doubt than they could handle.
When your friends and family see you, do they see the Love of God, the values of the Kingdom that Jesus preached? Or do they doubt if any of this Christianity stuff is real? In this Easter season and beyond, remember to grow faith out of doubts that arise for you, and to remind others of the message of Jesus Christ. God’s love has triumphed over death and Hell. We are a resurrection people, of that, I have no doubt.