Sunday, April 28, 2019
If there was one common consensus this past week
Among those many preaching bloggers Who hold forth on the internet
Something maybe not that obvious to the rest of us It is that Thomas maybe be One of the least understood of Jesus’ inner circle
Or in the more direct language of one commentator “he has gotten a bum rap”
And it is this gospel passage
These 12 verses from the 20th chapter of John more than any other, that are the source of this maligning
ironically, many of us unwittingly contributed
to this apostolic maligning by perpetuating a title not found in the gospels
We call him Thomas the doubter The gospel only calls him Thomas Didymus, Thomas the twin
What I consider this apostolic misnomer
Comes from a superficial reading of today’s gospel The abbreviated, albeit somewhat cheeky version
Provided by an unnamed friend Goes like this
After the Crucifixion The apostles are locked away
in a back room at the local Hyatt express
to their surprise
Jesus jimmies the lock on the door breaks through And does the “surprise, I’m back” routine
Thomas was missing,
Apparently out getting pizza So missed the whole episode
When he returns, Thomas mockingly does the
“sure … Jesus is back” routine
To his surprise, however,
Jesus shows up again There follows the most famous
Finger poking episode in history
After which Thomas does 180 degree turn cements his legacy as the apostles who says Jesus really IS back
Thomas then goes to India
Becomes a saint Nothing more to say Through Christ our Lord.
This all too common caricature, however,
Is not supported by the gospel evidence Because the texts do not give us an image
Of Thomas the Doubter but Thomas the determined Thomas the hardnosed Thomas the unscamable
thus, earlier in John’s Gospel When Jesus decides to go into dangerous Bethany It is Thomas the brave who pipes up,
And insists the disciples go along Even if it means dying with Jesus
When Jesus is giving his long mystical discourse later on in John
It is Thomas the irrepressible who honestly confesses that he does not know where Jesus is going and does not know how to find the way
and is determined to get a straight answer out of Jesus
and on that first Easter eve
when Peter the chicken-hearted & rest of the apostles are locked in the back room of the Hyatt apparently afraid of their own shadows … why is Thomas not there?
who knows, maybe he’s out scowling the streets
looking for Jesus And figures while he’s out He might as well pick up some groceries For his cowering apostolic friends
When he does come back from his long search
Or the grocery store And hears that the others have seen the Lord … In his response is he being arrogant or just practical? He’s seen enough snake oil salesmen and financial pitchmen
He has no interest in being scammed So he basically asks, to paraphrase a famous commercial: Where’s the beef? Blessed are you Thomas the unscamable
And of course, when Jesus does appear
The risen one does not rebuke him But makes an amazing invitation
To touch the wounded body of Christ Which provokes the most profound profession of faith
In the gospel of John, and maybe in the whole of the New Testament “my lord and my God”
in this age of skepticism
when the charge of fake news
is flippantly bandied about Thomas the unscamable raises one of the basic
and enduring question in religion, in politics and in human relationships: Is he, is she really the one … or do we look for another
This is a question raised about Jesus
since the time of his own birth and it is not only a question
that we are already raising about every potential presidential candidate who pops up on the screen these days
but one that haunts those of us who bear his name
as institutional religion is meticulously scrutinized from inside and out with believers and non-believers as well asking:
Is this church the one? Is this the real community of faith Or do we look elsewhere?
The image we get in the 1st reading of Acts
Of the idealized community of faith Was an earnest announcement That tried to convey that Christians .. the followers of Jesus Were the real deal, 100% beef, no filler, they were the one
But can we say the same thing about ourselves today?
That, of course, is one of the hidden danger of this Easter Gospel which does not simply question whether
Jesus is to be believed But more pointedly asks,
If those who bear his name today are to be believed.
I don’t have to remind you
That there is good empirical evidence That people are fleeing institutional religion at an alarming rate Almost a decade ago, a survey by the Pew Forum for Religion Documented that more people have left Roman Catholicism
Than any other church in the US Shockingly in that report
1 in every 10 US adults was ex Roman Catholic More than population of Lutheran, Presbyterian & Episcopal churches combined The trend has not changed The only reason we are still the largest Church in the US
is largely because of so called Hispanic immigrants and evidence is that we are not doing a very good job responding to their personal and religious deeds
Now I understand that religion is not simply about numbers
Pope Francis makes that clear When he reframes “evangelization” in terms of witness
Of building bridges with believers and non-believers Around issues of justice and human dignity1 And calls even atheists in these ventures “precious allies”
But what renders our faith community
Not just a community to join As so many did just a week ago here and around the world But a faith community with which to collaborate
In protecting the rights and dignity of all of God’s children?
1 Evangelii Gaudium
Maybe a different reading of today’s Gospel
And a reinterpretation of Thomas the doubter
Turned Thomas the empathetic Might help.
Those who read the original Greek of the Gospels
Something I hardly can do Suggest that Thomas’ absence Was not because he was out buying bagels
When Jesus showed up But actually that he had abandoned The apostolic circle
Thus, the text does not so much say “Thomas was not with them Right at the moment when Jesus first showed up”
But rather, “Thomas no longer existed with them” “He no longer resided with them” Maybe he longer counted himself as one of them
Is it possible, that the apostolic community
Was trying to convince Thomas
Maybe symbolic of others who had let To return to the fold after the debacle of the crucifixion? And the unscamable Thomas wants to know why
What is it about this community That reveals that they are authentically living Jesus’ spirit? That “there’ the one”?
And might the answer to those questions have something to do
With that pivotal moment When Thomas encounters the wounded body of Christ? Does Thomas the risk taker
gives us the ultimate litmus test for discerning if this body of believers is the authentic one?
Was he asking, “beyond your hospitality and music
Your beautiful worship space and wonderful decorations Are you willing to touch the wounded body of Christ?
Are we willing to accept the Holy Breath of empathy
The Sacred Spirit of compassion In both a spirit of forgiveness and healing?”
The broken body of Christ is all too apparent today
Be that a festering wound
Like the lingering abuse scandal Or the fresh trauma of a Sri Lankan massacre The abiding ache of post-Columbine, post-Virginia Tech
post-Sandy Hooks, post-Stoneman Douglas grieving or the raw lament for Chicago’s most recent shooting victim
or the victims in a San Diego synagogue.
On this feast of Thomas so called doubter,
transfigured as Thomas the empathetic Thomas the wound toucher Thomas the Spirit dweller We recommit to God’s mission in the crucified To touch the broken body with reverence and love As with the poet,2 we pray
piano These things did Thomas hold for real: the warmth of blood, the chill of steel, the grain of wood, the heft of stone, the last frail twitch of blood and bone.
His brittle certainties denied that one could live when one had died, until his fingers read like Braille the markings of the spear and nail. May we, O God, by grace believe and, in believing, still receive the Christ who held His raw palms out and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.
This Christ who shows his wounds again In distant land and new found friend Whose broken body still appears Amid fresh hatred, greed and fear.
May we who dare to bear his name,
2 Hymn text by Thomas H. Troeger (1983).
Be willing now to do the same that Thomas did … which must suffice To touch the wounded side of Christ.
Schutte, “Send us your Spirit”