Doubting Thomas: Jesus was not a name-caller

Preached at Christ the King, Stone Ridge, NY, May 1, 2011

When my friend John and I talk about making meals, it often goes like this:

John: I had some fish and some blood oranges, and some other stuff around the house. So, I poached the fish in the blood orange juice, mixed with olive oil and rosemary. I served it over shaved fennel and slightly wilted arugula.

Paul: Wow, that sounds delicious. I found a recipe for a new pasta sauce. It turned out great.

John: Oh, and then I remembered I had a fresh fig, so I sliced it thin and poached it with the fish.

Maybe you are have friends like John, or maybe you are that person. The one who instinctively knows how to put ingredients together and is not afraid of diving right in. Or, maybe you are like me, or you know people who are. Folks who seek out some instruction the first time they make something. And, eventually we come to understand how things work so that we can tweak the recipe and make it our own the next time.

If you have been anywhere near kids when they are learning, or have noticed your own learning patterns, the concept of learning styles will not be foreign to you.  Some of us like to read and some of us like to get our hands dirty right away. It’s how we’re built.

Imagine if someone said to me: “Paul, just make that new pasta sauce by feel the first time”. I would cry into my dishcloth.

Or, if someone said to my friend John: “No, you must follow the recipe. None of this improvising for you!” He’d have a fit.

So, now imagine that Jesus and Thomas have a different kind of interaction. Let’s pretend the story takes another turn.

Thomas, the hands-on learner, wants to put his finger in the side wound. Jesus is thoroughly disgusted. He steps back and says:

“Dude, that’s gross. What’s wrong with you? Everyone else here is good with this resurrection thing. You gotta problem?”

No, it doesn’t happen that way, which gives me great hope for the Thomases of the world, which sometimes includes me.

Remember, this is the Jesus who…

  • ate with sinners
  • Saved an adulteress from being stoned
  • Spoke well of Samaritans
  • Consorted with tax collectors
  • Healed people at inappropriate times, like on the Sabbath.

This is the Jesus of radical welcome. And, so, he meets Thomas where he’s at. He says, “go ahead. If you need to examine the wounds, that’s fine.

There’s another example like this in today’s gospel.

When we begin, we are told that the 12 are hidden behind a locked door, shut in for fear of the Jews. Picture them, huddled together, trying not to make any noise, lest they are discovered.

Imagine that when Jesus comes in, he sees this and says:

“Look at you!!! Cowering in the corners. Afraid to move. Are you the men I hand-picked to follow me? What was I thinking? You are pathetic! Get out there and evangelize!!!”

No. This is the Jesus who loves unconditionally.  Who wants our souls to be at rest. Even when, and especially when, we are in fear.  So, he says: “Peace be with you.”

And, so, here we have two examples of the great compassion of Jesus, right in this story.

Jesus could have belittled Thomas, or denied him what he needed. He did not. Instead, he was compassionate and forgiving. In fact, Jesus did not coin the unfortunate nickname, “Doubting Thomas”.  Jesus was unwilling to define Thomas by calling him the doubter. Jesus was not a name-caller.

But how often do we do this with people we know? Thomas was much more complex than just this one incident. So are the other people in our lives. But, when we turn to convenient labels, we minimize their complex humanity. We reduce the unknowable mystery of their personhood into a catch-phrase that may be amusing to gossip about, but damaging to them, and ultimately, to us.

When Jesus found the disciples cowering in the locked room, he could have highlighted their fear, and condemned their cowardice. He did not. Jesus did not hold them to standards they could not meet. He is ultimately generous. He gave of himself in the face of weakness and need. In the face of fear and doubt.

How often are we able to see that we, too, are motivated, or frozen, by fear? That we make decisions based on what other people may think are irrational considerations? We want others to be patient with us in these circumstances.  Are we willing to be patient when others are in fear? Or would we rather tell them to “man up” and get on with it?

The third aspect of this gospel account that I would like to highlight is that Jesus tells the 12 that they have the power to forgive, or retain, sins. Where have we heard this before? When Jesus speaks of Peter as the rock on which he builds his church, he bestows this same authority.

Let’s once again, look at Jesus as our model for forgiveness. To be honest, he didn’t always offer such succor. Not to the Pharisees. Not to those whose hearts were so hardened that they couldn’t see beyond their own oppressive practices. Not to those who put a chilly piety above the very human needs of those who were suffering. Instead, in those conversations, he brought the truth to light.

But, in what I think is one of the most remarkable moments in the New Testament, a moment we have recently recalled, Jesus asked God to forgive those who had tortured and crucified him. I wonder, was that because he couldn’t bring himself to do it? I don’t know. Regardless, it’s an amazing request. Would I be able to make that same request in the face of my own death? I don’t know.

Which brings me to ask, How do we get the grace to forgive?

We ask for this ability each week, when we say the Our Father. We say it as part of the desire that the kingdom come. It is an action we can take that helps relocate the kingdom here, in our hearts, and in the lives of those we touch.

And, what does forgiveness accomplish?

  • It frees us from the poison of resentments
  • It allows us to move toward the future, rather than stay locked into the past
  • It acknowledges that all of us are imperfect and make mistakes
  • It frees the other person from the only role we put them in:  perpetrator
  • Forgiveness creates the possibility of healing; it may even mean a new relationship with that person

I think, based on today’s gospel, that we have 3 missions as modern-day apostles:

  • If someone you know is struggling with conviction, understand that their struggle could also be yours. Then, allow time and space for that struggle to take place.
  • If someone you know is afraid, recognize that their fear could also be yours. Then, make room for peace to enter.
  • If someone you know needs forgiveness, recognize that you, too, need forgiveness. Then, offer it, if you can. If you cannot, then ask God to do it for you. Amen.

About Soul Intention

"Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with...desire. What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us, that is our spirituality." from The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser. Paraphrasing what Gerald May has said, in his book Will and Spirit, spirituality is our experience and interpretation of our relationship with the Sacred. The intent of this blog is to explore for myself, and to invite others to explore with me, just what is it we do with our desire? What is our spirituality? Mine has been shaped by many my formative years, by the Roman Catholic church. In the last decade, by the 12 steps. Most recently, by the Episcopal Church. And, always, always, by the sense that Nature helped to reveal the Great Mystery, of which we are all a part. So, my spirituality includes concrete practices, like the Steps, as well as probing more philosophical matters. I was certified, in January 2011, as a Spiritual Director by the Haden Institute. During those 21 months of study, which included a broad range of topics from Celtic Spirituality, to the Christian Mystics, to Jungian Depth psychology, I was given the space and time to ponder my own spiritual journey, hear about others' paths, and benefit from participation in an intentional community. My hope is that this blog can engender a similar conversation. Peace, Paul
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