Today is divine Mercy Sunday. Our gospel is a message of God’s love for us.
This gospel is a story for the early church (and for us). John the Evangelist is writing about 100AD, seventy years after the death of Jesus. Few living members of the Christian community had actually met Jesus. They had to rely on the witness of others. They were being distracted by stories of magic; magic enthralled John’s people. The recounting of this story of Thomas was to counter a magical notion of what the resurrection is about. Our gospel story emphasises the real, the tangible, the physical; the post resurrection Jesus, bearing the marks of his torture and death, can be touched.
When you read the resurrection accounts of all four gospels, you realize that Thomas is not alone in his doubt. In fact, doubt isn’t the exception but the rule.” Yet was he a “doubter” or did he see himself as a realist? Remember, he had seen Jesus nailed to the cross and die.
The realism of this story is very telling. No one, even after all the predictions, no one says to Jesus, “Welcome back,” or “We knew it,” or even “What took you so long?” No, when Jesus shows up, there is doubt or confusion.
Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith but, actually, part of it; maybe even an essential part of it. Jesus doesn’t rebuke Thomas, rather He blesses all those who have managed to believe without the benefit of direct experience; all those who have managed to come to a faith that lives with doubts and yet still finds a way to believe.
There is another message the evangelist John, our parish patron, is sharing with his community. Trust in the faith community. Is Thomas doubting Jesus or is he doubting the witnesses – like Peter doubted the witness of Mary of Magdala?
Thomas doubted the witnesses, those claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. Very few of us go through life without having serious questions about God, Jesus, the Spirit and the Church. These are good questions within themselves, necessary for a mature adult faith. What we need to ensure is that we sincerely want to know the answers and not use them as excuses for wandering away from the Faith.
What happened to Thomas? He had rejected the witness of the faith community, yet they remained faithful to him in his doubts. We know this because he is still with them a week later. They didn’t eject him – they held onto him in the hope that he would experience the Lord for himself. In this we should take the earliest church as our model and stay faithful to our doubters.
The birth of the Church is an ongoing act of God’s creation. It took time. People will be at different stages at different moments. Like any family. Pope Francis commenting on family stated, “The perfect family doesn’t exist, nor is there a perfect husband or a perfect wife. It’s just us sinners.” He continues “A healthy family life requires frequent use of three phrases: “May I? Thank you and I’m sorry” and “never, never, never end the day without making peace.” (Meeting with engaged couples, Feb. 14, 2014).
Our fidelity and love for one another on life’s journey is only surpassed by Jesus himself who does not give up on us, no matter how many questions we ask or how much we doubt. He came for all, not just the few. That is what divine mercy is about.
Jesus took Thomas’ fears, doubts, and disbelief and transformed them into a powerful Christian message that has sustained generations of us who struggle with life and faith. Remember always His words to each of us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Rev Deacon Kevin Pattison