Easter 2, A
A favorite Hasidic story tells of 3 youths. They hid themselves in a barn in order to smoke. Hasidim discovered them and wished to flog the offenders. One youth exclaimed: “I deserve no punishment, for I forgot that today is the Sabbath.” The 2nd opined that he also, deserved no punishment because “I forgot that smoking on the Sabbath is forbidden”. The third youth similarly spoke up, “I, too, forgot.” “What did you forget?” “I forgot to lock the barn door”. (Story from Kurtz, Earnest and Ketcham, Katherine; The Spirituality of Imperfection)
The disciples also hid away, huddled together, hoping to would live to the next hour, the next day, the next week – you can be sure they did not forget to lock the door. A strong dose of very unpleasant reality faced them outside that door. In what now must have seemed like a horrible lapse in judgement, they had followed a charismatic, radical bastion of truth and justice, convinced he was the messiah, the savior. They followed Him faithfully and publicly right up until they didn’t, until they scattered and ran. They saw their hopes of salvation savagely beaten, tortured and murdered. They knew that the forces which destroyed their hopes would happily destroy them as well.
Thomas was gone when Jesus came and stood among them with His words of peace and breath of the spirit. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And thus is born the story of Doubting Thomas. Except that the story really is not about doubt at all.
Other than lists of disciples, we hear very little about Thomas. He appears two other times in the Gospel of John: When Jesus takes it into his head to return to Jerusalem to the side of Lazarus, all the disciples know the folly of the idea. The journey means death. Having weighed the cost of his life against his fealty to Jesus, Thomas declares his intent: “Let us also go also, that we may die with him” (11:16). To Jesus’s claim in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you…. You know the way to the place where I am going,” Thomas replies simply and practically, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know then the way?” (14:5). Much like our young smoker, Thomas is practical, honest and realistic.
I love that this lesson falls the week of the March for Science on Washington (and all its satellite marches). St. Thomas is not the patron saint of science, that honor belongs to St. Albert, but he good be. I have priest friend who marched in full clerical gear – collar and cross carrying the sign bearing Martin Luther King Jr.’s works, “Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.” The contrast between religion and science leads many to consider their relationship inimical one to another. In reality they represent different aspects of the search for Truth with a capital T, a search Thomas embodies.
Confronted by the reality of Jesus standing before him, stretching out his mangled hands, offering his wounds for inspection, murmuring words of peace, Thomas’s doubts disappear. Thomas hasn’t given up asking questions, his realism remains intact – reality has changed.
He has given us new birth into a living hope, says first Peter.
Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean. Convicted of stealing a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean serves nineteen years in prison, over which time (as Hugo describes) his soul withers. Even after his release he cannot obtain work or food or shelter due to his past. Hopeless and exhausted, he arrives at the house of a bishop. The bishop not only does not shun him, but treats him as a guest. Valjean cannot comprehend the reality of the kindness offered. He steals the silver plates from the bishop’s cupboard and flees. He is captured and brought by the police to face the victim of his thievery. The police and Jean Valjean are equally surprised by his victim’s reaction to his return: “I’m glad to see you,” the bishop says. “But I gave you the candlesticks, too, which are silver like the rest and would bring two hundred francs. Why didn’t you take them along with your cutlery?” “Jean Valjean opened his eyes and looked at the bishop with an expression no human tongue could describe.”
The police depart. The bishop hands Valjean the candlesticks, holding him just a moment longer before sending him freely on his way with this blessing: “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts…and I give it to God.” Thus Jean Valjean is born anew…
(Thanks to David Lose, Day1, for the concept of Thomas the Realist, and the illustration of Les Miserables)
He has given us new birth into a living hope.
Most days, we do not face flogging at the hands of the Hasidim, crucifixion at the hands of the 1st century Palestine authorities, starvation or physical imprisonment. Still the realities of the world weigh heavily. Jean Valjean still faced persecution and discrimination. Thomas’s life was no less in danger.
It is the second Sunday of Easter today. Not the second Sunday after Easter – like the seasons which follow Pentecost and Epiphany. Easter does not end when the Cadbury cream eggs go on sale. We are Easter people and Easter is our new reality. He has given us birth into a living hope. Christ stands among us bidding us to come out from behind our doors locked against fear, barn doors of distrust, our prison walls of apathy and continue the transformation in the world that he has wrought by His life, His death, His resurrection.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen