Sunday, April 7, 2013

Easter 2

We call him “doubting Thomas.”
Our English word “doubt” is from the Latin word dubio,
which itself is a combination of two Latin words:
duo, meaning two,
and habeo, meaning “I have.”
When I am in doubt, I have two possibilities before me,
between which I cannot yet decide
as I consider first one and then the other.
You find a similar thing in other languages;
for example, in German the word for doubt is zweifel:
literally, the state of being “two-ful.”

Try to imagine the state of mind of this “two-ful Thomas.”
He has heard the story of Mary Magdalene and Peter and John,
who claimed that they found the tomb of Jesus empty.
Then the other disciples tell Thomas
that they have seen and spoke with the risen Lord.
How could such a thing be?
How could two-ful Thomas not 
consider alternative explanations?
Is the tomb really empty – 
or is it a hoax?
Have the others really seen Jesus alive – 
or were they hallucinating?

On the one had, perhaps the tomb was empty, as they said.
On the other hand, perhaps the tomb was not empty;
perhaps the stone was not rolled away.
But if so, why would Mary and Peter and John 
have said that it was?
What would they have to gain from making up this story?
There is no obvious benefit to be had from such a lie.
Indeed, for them to claim that Jesus still lived
would be to put themselves at considerable risk
from those who had crucified him in the first place.

So two-ful Thomas continues to ponder:  
maybe the tomb was empty.
Does this mean that he was in fact raised,
or is it possible that someone stole the body?
But why would someone do that?
A supporter of Jesus would not have much to gain from doing so;
it would be safer simply to head back to Galilee
and try to forget about the hope that seemed to have failed.
An opponent of Jesus would have even less reason to do so,
since they too were anxious to put this whole Jesus thing to rest.

And what about the claim of the other disciples
that Jesus had appeared to them in the upper room?
Did he really appear to them alive,
or was this some sort of dream or hallucination?
How could someone escape the grip of death,
which seems so firm and unbreakable?
At the same time, is it really possible
that ten people would have collectively hallucinated
Jesus’ appearing before them and speaking to them?
So two-ful Thomas considers the alternatives.
Which is more convincing: 
that Jesus has been raised from death
or that there is some sort of hoax or hallucination involved?
Thomas has reason to doubt that Jesus still lives,
but he also doubt his doubts,
because the possibilities they present 
seem implausible as well.

Our Gospel tells us that Thomas only resolves his doubts
when he encounters the risen Jesus himself,
who invites him to touch his wounds 
and to see that it is really he.
Two-ful Thomas, having doubted so long,
lets the risen Jesus open in his heart 
the floodgates of faith,
and makes one of the boldest professions of faith
in the entire New Testament,
saying to the risen Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”
He not only believes that the man Jesus has risen,
but that this man is God in human flesh,
the one who holds the keys to death and the netherworld.

Gregory the Great once said in a sermon,
“Mary Magdalene, who was quick to believe,
has helped me less than Thomas,
who remained so long in doubt” (Homily 29).
Perhaps only one who had doubted so long 
could believe so deeply.
Two-ful Thomas stands as witness to the idea
that doubts are not thoughts to be repressed,
but rather questions to be worked through;
faith is not a matter of ignoring our doubts,
but of committing ourselves in trust
to a possibility that we have deeply considered;
through God’s grace, our doubts become
ways of preparing our hearts for an even deeper faith.

Two-ful Thomas becomes single-minded in his faith
when he encounters the risen Jesus.
Overcoming doubt is not so much 
like finding an answer to a problem
as it is like meeting someone with whom you fall in love,
someone for whom you will forsake all others,
someone who becomes your first and your last.
Let us pray that this Easter season will become a time
for us to meet Jesus anew,
to make him our first and our last,
to fall in love with him
and the new life that he so freely shares with us.