April 10, 2021 – Second Sunday of Easter
Today’s gospel shares the familiar story of “Doubting Thomas” from John 20:19-31. The following is a homily I delivered on that same gospel back in 2018.
I once saw a single-frame comic in a Christian magazine in the doctor’s office. It came to mind when reflecting on today’s gospel reading. The comic showed the apostles sitting in a large room, watching television together. On the TV screen was a show in which one of the characters, with drooping shoulders and a sad face, was saying, “I’m sorry for being such a doubting Thomas.”
The apostles in the comic were all having a great laugh – slapping their knees with delight and pointing at Thomas. Thomas was red in the face and steam was coming out of his ears. A thought bubble was over his head which read, “You make one mistake and you never hear the end of it.”
His famous mistake: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks…I will not believe.”
Poor Thomas – a victim of poor timing and circumstances! He was not in the right place at the right time and has forever been branded as Doubting Thomas.
The fact is, it is very likely that any one of the other apostles would have had the same response. We could just as easily be using the phrase Doubting James or Doubting Andrew in our everyday language.
All disciples of Jesus doubted at one time or another. Many doubted Jesus right to His face. Earlier this week, we heard the familiar gospel story of the Road to Emmaus. Cleopas had a conversation with the risen Jesus that lasted hours, and yet he never recognized Jesus. Was Jesus a master of disguise?
No, but Cleopas saw Him crucified. He was there when nails were driven into His hands and feet. He watched the soldier pierce His side. He heard Jesus say, “It is finished.” He watched the lifeless body taken down from the cross and saw Mary mourn the loss of her son.
So, when Cleopas met Jesus on the road to Emmaus he didn’t recognize Him. Not because Jesus looked different or wore a disguise, but because he didn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead – despite the fact that Jesus had told His disciples that He would come again in glory. Despite the fact that He told them He would be with them again, Cleopas doubted.
Mary Magdalene, friend and disciple, saw the risen Jesus as well. She assumed she was talking with the gardener. Was Jesus pulling weeds or tilling the soil? No, she didn’t recognize Jesus because she didn’t believe He would rise from the dead. That couldn’t be Jesus because Jesus was dead. She came to the tomb to anoint the dead body of her friend. She doubted what Jesus had told her.
If we really want to point our fingers at a professional doubter, we have to look no further than Peter – lead apostle and eventual first Pope of the Church. Jesus told the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Peter responded by saying, “No such thing shall ever happen to you!” He too expressed doubt.
While Doubting Cleopas or Mary or Peter may not have the same ring as Doubting Thomas, all had their doubts. All of Jesus’ followers doubted.
So, we should be cautious in judging Thomas. When we look in the mirror, we may look just like him.
How often have we thought to ourselves, “Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it” when it comes to our relationship with God? And what is doubt other than a lack of trust? A lack of faith?
We know what God can do for us. We know of His power and His love for us. We talk the talk – saying things like, “All things are possible with God” – yet still we doubt.
We find it very difficult to leave situations in God’s hands. As much as we claim to be a people of faith, doubt creeps in when difficult times arise. We step to the edge of the cliff and are afraid to jump, despite knowing God is waiting to catch us. Rather than rely on our faith, we, like Thomas, fall into the trap of “show me” or “prove it.”
We have become a society of skeptics, a Church of doubters.
Here is data from one diocese in New England, compiled in a study following infants baptized in the faith. In 2002, there were (1,514) infant baptisms in the diocese. In 2010, (999) of those baptized received first Communion. In 2017, (625) of them were confirmed. That means nearly 60% of those young people, or the parents charged with raising them in the faith, experienced doubt – enough doubt that they cut ties with the Church, or at the very least, allowed their faith to lie dormant.
We may be thinking, “Not me, Lord! I would never doubt you!”
Every time we turn away from God in our greatest need, rather than run toward Him, we doubt.
Every time we choose things – money, popularity, power – over God, we doubt.
Every time we refuse to listen to the voice of God because it is uncomfortable to hear, we doubt.
When we skip Mass, or cut prayer from our busy day, or refuse to reach out to someone who needs us, we are making a statement. We are saying, “I have things to do that are more important than growing my relationship with God.” It is a self-centered statement. It is a statement that, at its core, expresses doubt. After all, if we truly believe in the risen Christ and know of His unconditional love for us, how could anything be more important?
Placing our trust in God, fighting against doubt, is challenging. However, it is a battle worth fighting.
At a deacon’s retreat I attended yesterday, Fr. Pat Beidelman described what it was like for him when trust began to replace doubt. He said, “I have experienced so much of His power, His faithfulness, and His love in my life, that now it feels less like jumping off a cliff into the unknown and more like returning to a warm and familiar place.”
Doubt, the fear of jumping off a cliff, was replaced by trust, a warm and familiar place.
Imagine what could be accomplished if we, as a faith community, were all on the same page in this regard. We heard what that might be like in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: The community of believers was of one heart and mind…with great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.
In other words, go ahead and jump.