2nd Sunday of Easter

Confusion and doubt reigned supreme on the Sunday of Jesus’ resurrection and the following days. Those of us who attended weekday Masses last week or followed the daily gospel readings might have seen that for ourselves. For example, last Friday, we heard about the Risen Christ, initially unrecognised, appearing to his disciples on the shore of the Galilean lake after their unsuccessful fishing overnight. On Jesus’ prompting from the shore, they cast their nets again and caught so many fish that they couldn’t drag the net back into the boat. Only then did John tell Peter it was the Lord. To cut a long story short, when all seven disciples eventually gathered around a small charcoal fire, “none of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’” as the evangelist astonishingly reported. It was quickly followed by a phrase that looks to me like back-pedalling: “They knew quite well it was the Lord.” (John 21:12) Did they, really? Or did they assume it was the Lord? Essentially, something similar repeatedly happened to a number of Jesus’ followers shortly after the resurrection, when confusion and doubt reigned supreme. More astonishingly, though, the Church has never covered up these inconveniently challenging stories. Couldn’t life have been so much easier if the story had been doctored and smoothed over? Besides keeping the Gospels as they were written – regardless of how inconvenient they might be – there’s also a critically important lesson all the faithful could and should take from those stories of confusion: “By doubting, we are led to question; by questioning, we arrive at the truth.” (Peter Abelard)

This is no more obvious than in today’s story of Thomas the Apostle. He was the only one among those close to Jesus who directly challenged Him: “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” His outright refusal was rewarded a week later when Jesus offered Thomas the opportunity to do exactly what he had wanted: “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.” That experience resulted in a rather moving profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus’ final line in His interaction with Thomas is often seen as a gentle rebuke of the latter: “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” However, he wasn’t being admonished for having doubts but rather for dangerously narrowing his chances by setting very tight criteria.

There are a few interesting elements in Thomas’ story in today’s gospel. Firstly, he questioned the right person, someone capable of addressing his doubts. It’s important to look for answers in the right places. You don’t ask a dental nurse to fix your car or request a car mechanic to deal with your toothache. These days, many prominent comedians mock Christianity while the so-called “celebrity atheists” dismiss it. I don’t really mind if they do; thankfully, we live in a country where freedom of expression is still in place. But I wouldn’t go to any of them with my questions about my faith. Instead, I use the sound, mainstream teaching of the Church, available through so many channels, such as – for example – our recent Lenten series “A Biblical Walk Through The Mass”.

The second interesting element in Thomas’ story was the gap between him setting the challenge and getting the answer. According to the gospel, it was seven long days. For Thomas, who had witnessed Jesus’ death, the question of Jesus being alive wasn’t inconsequentially academic or speculative; it was a matter of great importance. So, it must have been on his mind all the time, perhaps occasionally going into overdrive. It’s an experience most of us have had when we’ve faced challenging situations or circumstances, sometimes resulting in sleepless nights or never-ending, exhausting internal discussions in our minds. However tiring such an experience might be, it can lead us to open our minds to different angles or perspectives to look at the problem or even find workable solutions. Taking time is so important in making vital decisions so we can assess and discern all the pros and cons with a cool head. Sometimes, I hear people complaining about God not answering them. God always does – always at the best time.

The third interesting element in Thomas’ story is the connection between “seeing” and “believing”. He stated that “unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” So, when Jesus showed himself, He urged Thomas to “put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side.” We don’t know whether he did as he was told or not. But he professed his faith in Jesus’ divinity: “My Lord and my God!” something that goes well beyond the observable world. “Seeing” is not “believing”. Many saw Jesus and His miracles during His earthly ministry and yet rejected Him to such an extent as to murder Him. His opponents saw His miracles but accused Him of performing them with demonic powers. So much for seeing and believing… You can see me, a middle-aged, bespectacled bald man, like everyone else I come across every day; unlike you, most people I meet don’t believe I have the power to perform miracles. You do, so you come to Mass and receive the bread I will have turned into the Body of Christ. You make sacramental confessions and believe your sins have been forgiven upon receiving absolution. The list could go on for quite some time… We need tangible elements in our liturgy or celebrations because we perceive the world around us through our senses. We don’t have to believe in those things because we can touch, smell, hear, see or taste them. We are called to believe in the reality we get in contact with through these spiritual portals. As Psalm 34 has it: “O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the one that trusts in Him.” (34:8)

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