Sunday, April 15, 2012

Homily for the 2nd Week of Easter by Fr. Matthias Neuman

2nd Sunday of Easter, Apr. 15, 2012 (OLG)

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31

Today’s gospel passage narrates the well-known story of the "doubting" Thomas. It’s a very moving story and one often depicted by artists. But unfortunately it can give some muddled ideas about faith. Well, actually the story doesn’t. I should say that people often deduce some rather muddled notions of faith from the story. If they have any doubts about any aspect of the Christian faith, then they immediately cast themselves into the role of unbelievers or doubters—like Thomas. Then they think the only way out is an absolute and total confession of faith. However, the Thomas story, as written by the evangelist, really has two primary purposes: 1) it provides the opportunity for a dramatic portrayal of the culmination of John’s Christology in Thomas’ confession: "My Lord and My God." And 2) it affirms that those believers who have not personally witnessed any of Jesus’ earthly ministry or his Resurrection are just as much true Christian believers as that generation that lived and walked with Jesus.

There’s a tendency among people living in a large, ages-old tradition to look back at the beginnings of that tradition with rose-colored glasses. We have that tendency, for example, in considering the beginnings of our own country. How highly George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or Thomas Jefferson are revered as larger-than-life heroes. We simply overlook their failings (there were many) and magnify their good points. We do the same with the beginnings of our Christian faith. We can so easily imagine: "Oh, if only I would have lived in the time of Jesus and seen him. Then faith would be so easy." Well, when the evangelist John was writing his gospel some 70-75 years after Jesus, he was already dealing with that same tendency. He wanted his readers to consider that their Christian faith is just as real and solid as that of the apostles, even though their faith is not nourished by the memory of having seen. He also wants them to know that the apostles didn’t have an easy time believing in the Resurrection either.

Sometimes we can overlook how many negative emotions—fear, doubt, disbelief—are written into the Resurrection stories in the gospels. The Evangelists want us to know that faith in Jesus’ Resurrection didn’t come easy for Jesus’ own disciples. Their faith had doubts riddled all through it. In Matthew’s gospel the women who see the angel at the tomb are filled with "fear and joy." (28:8) The disciples who meet Jesus on the mountain in Galilee "worshiped Him, but some doubted." (28:17) In Mark’s gospel when Jesus appears to the eleven disciples, he upbraided them "for their lack of faith and stubbornness." (16:14) Thomas was not the only one of the disciples who was doubting; he had lots of company. Faith in Jesus’ Resurrection never came to them in a crystal-clear fashion.

We fit right in there with them. Mixed in with our faith in Jesus’ Resurrection will be some doubt, some fear, some disbelief, some stubbornness. And we move forward in life with that mixture in our hearts. Because that’s what faith is in an imperfect world. St. Paul tells us that as long as we live in this world, we "see through a glass dimly." (1 Cor. 13:12) (1st century glass was not clear; it was like frosted glass; you can’t make anything out clearly.) So in this Easter season let’s celebrate faith in Jesus’ Resurrection; but we should also remember that it might have some mixture of doubt and disbelief thrown in. It was true back in the disciples’ day; it’s still true in ours. In this Easter season celebration and praise take first place.

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