Brief synopsis of the readings: We’ll spend much of Easter reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the account (written by Luke) of the earliest years of the Christian community. It began with Jesus’ ascension to heaven. Today’s reading describes how the early apostles pooled their resources, ensuring nobody went without. They also began to testify to Jesus’ resurrection. John’s Gospel describes the famous story of “doubting Thomas.” Jesus appeared to the apostles with Thomas not among them. He told those gathered that they had the power to forgive sins. When Thomas heard this refused to believe that Jesus appeared to them and said he would only believe Jesus lived if he placed his fingers in the wounds. Eight days later Jesus appeared again and Thomas was present. When Jesus invited Thomas to inspect his wounds Thomas replied: “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus praised those who have not seen and yet believed.
Longtime readers of mine know well my frustration over this Gospel. Yes, part of it centers on the fact that I share his name, Thomas, and in fairness I’m named after my grandfather and not this apostle.
But I’ve never liked the fact that generations of Christians grew up describing Thomas as “the apostle with the asterisk” or “the apostle who almost had enough faith.” When Jesus did appear to Thomas he said to him: “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
In fairness, how should Thomas reacted? Like most of the disciples he ran from Jesus’ passion and death. Like most of his disciples he spent Good Friday convinced that Jesus’ death ended their discipleship and their dreams.
And also in fairness, the resurrected Jesus wasn’t like the Jesus they previously knew. Before Easter Jesus appeared just like any other person. He taught, ate, slept, and traveled with the rest of them. They knew where he was. When they fell asleep next to him they knew he would be next to them when they woke.
But after the resurrection Jesus took on an altogether persona. In today’s Gospel they were gathered in a locked room when Jesus appeared. He didn’t knock on or open the door, he just appeared. Next week we’ll read about two disciples who journeyed from Jerusalem to Emmaus when they encountered someone who they later understood to be Jesus.
That brings up an interesting question that must have occurred to Thomas: were these encounters with Jesus real, or did they dream them up?
Several years ago I read an interview where a Christian asked a rabbi why he didn’t believe in Jesus. After thousands of years of persecution most Jews dodge the question and say something along the lines of “well I respect what you believe but I believe something different.” But I respect what this rabbi said. He told the interviewer that he believed the early followers of Jesus were so horrified by his death that they all dreamed that Jesus returned. In the days after Easter they convinced each other that they had all seen the resurrected Jesus and out of that belief they built the Christian Church.
Obviously we don’t believe that, but perhaps Thomas did. When the other disciples told Thomas about seeing Jesus he can be forgiven for having his doubts. I give Thomas respect for his doubts, for his refusing to believe other accounts until he placed his hands in Jesus’ wounds. How many times have we been told something we wanted to hear so badly but still couldn’t quite believe? And how many times were we right?
For Thomas’s benefit and ours Jesus recognized that Thomas’ discipleship demanded another visit. And so he came again. His visit astounded both Thomas and the other disciples, and it should astound us. Again he appeared under mysterious circumstances, ignored locked doors, and appeared to Thomas. And for the only time Jesus appeared with his wounds.
With his wounds. We can look on this scene thinking Jesus showed his wounds only because Thomas demanded them. But I think we are called to look beyond that when we think of Jesus’ wounds. Nearly 50 years ago Fr. Henri Nouwen published a book entitled The Wounded Healer. In that book Fr. Nowen argued that healing comes not through our brilliance or even our desires, but through out wounds. When Jesus instructed Thomas to probe his wounds he didn’t do that only to prove his resurrection, but to show that we all heal, not inspite of, but through our own wounds.
Ask any of us why we follow Jesus I pray none of us give the answer of the Pharisees. They would answer that God chose them because they were smart enough, or good enough, or born into the right family. They would, essentially, say God chose them because they deserved to be chosen.
But if we take this Gospel seriously we should recognize that our call follows a different path. Thomas wasn’t the “doubting Thomas,” he was the “chosen Thomas.” When Jesus invited him to place his hands in the wounds and he said “My Lord and my God” he recognized that Jesus came back not because of who Thomas was, but because of who Jesus was.
Just as we believe that our salvation isn’t earned but given, so too we believe that our discipleship is also a gift. God could have created us without our awareness of him but decided that he loved us enough to make us aware of how we were created. And in Jesus God decided to tell us that His love extended to the point that his Son came to us and became one of us.
But even then God wasn’t done. Jesus came to Thomas not only to tell him about the Resurrection but also to tell him (and us) that we have a share in God’s plan of Salvation.
Today we celebrate the 2nd Sunday of Easter and we’ll be reading from the Acts of the Apostles for this season of Easter. Acts lays the blueprint of the Christian Church that we all recognize. There will be more to read.
But we are not expected to be perfect disciples. Thomas tells us that we are called to be wounded healers, that discipleship demands not perfection but love.