A car was involved in an accident. A large crowd gathered. A newspaper reporter, anxious to get his story, couldn’t get near the car. So, being a clever sort, he started shouting loudly, “Let me through! Let me through! I’m the victim’s son!” — With that the crowd made way for him. —
——- Imagine the reporter’s embarrassment when he discovered that lying in front of the car was the VICTIM — a dead DONKEY!
In the Middle Ages, GERMANS used the DONKEY, in their RELIGIOUS ART, to represent the Apostle THOMAS. That’s because the donkey was a symbol of foolishness! — But, I think that Thomas was “anything BUT – foolish”! — DOUBTING, yes! — FOOLISH, no!
In fact, in today’s scientific world, I rather suspect that there are a great many of us here in church (tonight/this morning) who can RELATE to Thomas; because, like him, we want empirical “proof” — something that we can “touch” and “see” and “hear” and “smell” – to help us to believe!
Today’s Gospel Story makes a case for all who find it HARD or
NEAR -IMPOSSIBLE to BELIEVE! — Thomas, one of the twelve apostles, is told that Jesus is ALIVE AGAIN after his death on the cross! — And, quite understandably, Thomas refuses to believe! He demands PROOF! He wants to “see” the holes in the hands of the crucified one; and “touch” them – and stick his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side! — (All in all, a very “fair” demand from an eyewitness to the crucifixion! — And NOBODY, now hallucinating or “seeing” ghosts, was going to “change” the “raw reality” of what Thomas had “witnessed” – first hand!) — In other words, Thomas was mourning the horrific death of his dear friend; and he didn’t need (or want) any “false hopes” that what he had seen with his own eyes, wasn’t really so!
THAT’S WHY, when Jesus comes a second time to that upper room where his Apostles are gathered, (this time WITH Thomas); Jesus invites Thomas to “see” and “touch” for himself; the wounds in the flesh of his resurrected body! — This is not to “scold” Thomas. Rather it is Jesus’ “gift” – a “personal revelation” to his doubting friend! — Here I am, Thomas – ALIVE! – “RISEN from the DEAD, just as I promised!” – Come – “see,” “touch” and “believe”!
Now Thomas is able join the rest of the Apostles in their “re-found faith”; because Jesus has given him “proof” that he LIVES! — (And that’s because FOR Thomas, and the rest of the Twelve; and for Mary Magdalene and for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; “SEEING is BELIEVING!”) — But, the Risen Lord is also quick to add: “YOU DON’T ‘HAVE TO’ SEE IN ORDER TO BELIEVE!”
Which is why most of us have come to believe THROUGH what we’ve HEARD from other believers! — We’ve come to believe that JESUS LIVES (HOPEFULLY) through preaching; through teaching; through the story of the Church down through the ages; and MOST CONVINCINGLY, through the lives of the good and holy men and women and boys and girls who are the living “body of Christ” – “the Church” in the world. IN ADDITION; , most of us have come to believe that JESUS LIVES, simply through LIVING those three GREAT VIRTUES of: FAITH – HOPE – and LOVE!
TRUE STORY: George Matheson was a Scottish pastor who had a serious “crisis of faith” in the early years of his ministry. He was so plagued with doubts that he finally decided to resign from his church assignment and leave the ministry in order to be true to his conscience!
BUT, when Matheson shared his decision with his parish; they begged him to stay and to preach only as much of the Christian message as he, himself, could believe in. ——- AND SO HE STAYED. — And gradually, as he SERVED his parish and its people, he was able to deal with his doubts; and GROW OUT OF THEM! — Matheson discovered that the ANSWER TO DOUBT isn’t some convincing theological argument ; but rather, LIFE WITH GOD’S PEOPLE — DOING GOD’S WORK! — In other words, if you keep ACTING LIKE you have FAITH; eventually FAITH WILL COME (or “come back”)!
I daresay that there are very few in church (tonight/this morning) who haven’t spent at least a “season” or two in the company of “doubt”! — And oftentimes, the more you CARE about your faith; the GREATER your STRUGGLES with the question of God’s existence and God’s goodness God’s relevance in your life, will be! — After all, when you are staking the entire “direction” of your life, and the values that you’ve chosen to shape it, on the VALIDITY OF your BELIEFS; you’d like to be “pretty certain” that these BELIEFS are “authentic,” wouldn’t you? — THAT’S what THOMAS is doing in today’s Gospel! — Looking for some kind of “PROOF” that the astonishing GOOD NEWS of Jesus’ RESURRECTION from the DEAD is “really” TRUE! And, if you’re anything like me, you can sympathize!
I’m positive that Thomas “WANTED” to BELIEVE; just like ALL of US “want” to believe; but, UNTIL Christ appeared to him, in person, Thomas simply couldn’t make that “LEAP OF FAITH”! —– And that is where many people are today; (maybe even some of you who are here [tonight/this morning])! — If so, let me make a FEW SUGGESTIONS – (suggestions that come out of the experience of many of the SAINTS down through the centuries, MEN and WOMEN who, like Thomas, had “DOUBTS” but were anything but “FOOLISH”)!
FIRST of all, like George Matheson discovered, YOU FIND CHRIST BEST BY SERVING HIM in his people! — “ACT LIKE” you believe! — and you will begin to doubt your doubts; and eventually GROW BEYOND THEM! — Faith is self-validating! In other words, as you LIVE IT, it becomes a REALITY in your life!
When I was first ordained, I met a pediatric oncologist – (a doctor who works with children with cancer). “Fred” told me that when he began his medical career he didn’t believe in God. But his young patients’ “unshakable faith” – (even in the face of death) – eventually brought him to God. — “Fred” shared that he “found” God by SERVING God’s children. As he put it, “Why do innocent people (like children) suffer in this world? — There is no satisfactory answer for THAT QUESTION! But there ARE three ways to handle THE QUESTION:
FIRST – You can decide that God would never author and oversee a universe where innocent people suffer; so that must mean that ,“THERE IS NO God!” — OR, You can be angry with God, and give God the “silent treatment.” — OR, – You can sit down and have a nice long conversation with God, (which is what we call prayer) — and give God a chance!
The great Saints of our Church would all agree that: never to have doubted is never to have taken the walk of faith, seriously!
My friend, “Fred,” gave God a chance, and now “Fred” is (in his own words) – a “card carrying, cast iron” believer!
And the SECOND SUGGESTION that I’d like to make for those who find “faith” difficult is to remember that none of us come to faith ALL AT ONCE! Faith is a life-long process. It’s a JOURNEY! — We start out in the “LIFE OF FAITH” just like we start out in “LIFE” – as an “infant”! — And, we GROW from there! It is TOTALLY UNREALISTIC to think that we will come to spiritual maturity overnight! — In fact, none of us will fully “ARRIVE,” on our journey of “spiritual growth,” until the DAY we DIE; and finally SEE our Savior face-to-face! — Until that day, “we walk by faith and not by sight!”
And FINALLY – “remaining faithful” on our life’s journey isn’t simply our doing; it’s God’s doing, as well! — (And I’m speaking here from my OWN experience; and from my forty-six years, as a priest, sharing others’ faith journeys with them!) —There will be MANY OCCASIONS on our spiritual journey when we’ll simply want to “throw in the towel!” — And, if FAITH depended “solely” on US; that’s probably exactly what would happen! — But, the GOOD NEWS is that FAITH doesn’t depend solely on us; it depends upon GOD’S “FAITHFULNESS” to us!
That’s WHY, just when we’re ready to quit, God will come to us (through a friend or a chance comment or an unexpected event) – and “show” us just enough of Himself to keep us “on track.” — And that will be “enough” to keep us struggling on – trying to keep that delicate balance between FAITH and DOUBT until we “see” God FACE to FACE!
(But, what about all those who have seen such terrible things in this life that they’ve lost faith in God above? — What about those whose sufferings and sadness have utterly shattered their power to believe? — What about those for whom a religious theory of life just doesn’t make any sense? — Or those who’ve been hopelessly turned off because of the follies and evils of organized religion?……
Well – a God who can create and sustain this astonishingly wonderful and complex universe of ours; and a God who can raise his Son, Jesus, from the dead, can certainly take care of those beloved sons and daughters as well! — BUT, I suspect, that God is also “counting on” YOU and ME to do OUR PART; and to give those whose faith is weak or who find faith “too great a challenge” – the BEST EXAMPLE of FAITH that we can muster, by simply following George Matheson’s lead and “ACTING LIKE” we have FAITH — as we go about the task of LIVING OUR LIVES and doing GOD’S WORK as best we can!
When all is said and done, MY FAITH, which is sustained and often challenged by YOU FAITH (as the flock of All Hallows entrusted to my care) – MY FAITH has brought me a great deal of consolation and much reason to hope during the eleven years that we have been together; and I PRAY that YOUR FAITH has done the same for you.