Last Sunday we reflected on the awesome gift of forgiveness that the risen Jesus offers us. We called to mind the beautiful image of Christ standing before us, as He stood before ten of the Apostles on the first Easter, saying, “Peace be with you.” We tried to hear His sweet voice telling us, “Look at these holy and glorious wounds. I loved you so much that I suffered these in order to win you forgiveness for your sins.”
On Divine Mercy Sunday, we turn toward a natural reaction in the face of such extreme forgiveness. “Is it too good to be true?” We will accompany the Apostle Thomas as we formulate an answer to this question.
What do we know from the Bible about the Apostle Thomas?
He did not belong to Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James the greater, and John
Unlike James the less, Peter, John, Jude and Matthew, nothing that he wrote made it into the Bible
The two other times that he speaks in the Gospels, Thomas is very confused and misunderstands Jesus.
Like every other apostle except Saint John, he abandoned Jesus during His Passion.
His name means twin, which suggests that at some point in his life he was viewed as the lesser half of a pair. Think about it, when people call you Twin, chances are the other guy is going by a more unique and interesting name, like…Willard.
All of these details point to Thomas being an outsider among the Apostles. Our intuition here is confirmed by the fact that Thomas is the only one of the Eleven on the evening of the first Easter not present. He probably decided to stop coming to apostolic meetings altogether after Jesus died on the Cross.
When the other apostles tracked him down and told him the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead and had come to them with forgiveness rather than revenge, Thomas refused to believe. We can almost hear him saying, “That’s too good to be true. I don’t believe you. We abandoned Jesus to crucifixion and no amount of wishful thinking is going to set that right. Each one of us has to deal with it in his own way and move on. ”
Thomas saw Jesus do some pretty extraordinary things during His three-year public ministry. After having seen Jesus cure the sick, raise the dead, turn water into wine, just to name a few miracles, it should not have been surprising to hear about our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead, especially because Jesus hinted that it would happen several times before His Passion. It would be a mistake to chalk up Thomas’ unbelief to a desire for more evidence than the testimony of the other apostles. It is far more likely that fear was what held him back accepting the good news. We know this dynamic from our own spiritual experience. Fear can paralyze us and close us off to new life.
When something goes badly for us, we go into survival mode. After the shock of the crucifixion, Thomas went into survival mode by disassociating himself from the other Apostles and trying to move on with life after Jesus. On the outside this behavior of digging in one’s heels and white knuckling it seems strong, but it is actually a telltale sign of fear. For Thomas, it was superficially easier for him to disbelieve the Resurrection than it was to face the fact that he abandoned Jesus when our Lord needed him most.
Focusing on one’s own moral weakness and lack of faith can be a very scary thing. We can almost hear the thinly veiled fear in Thomas’ voice when he says that he will not believe unless he can place his fingers into the nail marks and his hand into our Lord’s side.
We also try to convince ourselves that the forgiveness that Jesus offers us is too good to be true. Why? Because we have spent so much time and energy building up our defenses and have convinced ourselves that we can be okay without placing ourselves totally in God’s hands. We have gotten accustomed to managing our own spiritual lives. The unfortunate thing is that we can get so comfortable that we start to fear the possibility that the risen Christ brings us new life through His mercy. Being open to that would be too risky, the devil whispers in our ear. It would be safer to be in control of how we live and die.
It is a natural response and to be expected for us to have a Thomas moment in the midst of this explosion of the power of the Resurrection. “Unless I put my finger in the nail marks and my hand into His side, I will not believe!”
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is Risen and the power of His Resurrection is at work in our lives. But, when we allow the power of the Resurrection into our lives, God casts out all our fear. We don’t have to spend all of our energy trying to manage the death of our parishes. Instead, if we are in God’s will, we will continue to find that keeping up with the new life all around us is more than we can handle.
I do not have much experience changing diapers, but from what little I have with my godchildren, I am reminded that new life is messy. Cute, but messy. It will be the same for us. Having a sense of humor will be key.
Jesus says to us today, “come put your finger in my hand, plunge your hand into my side, do not continue to disbelieve but believe.”
We ask for the grace, like Thomas, to respond to this invitation on bended knee, confessing “My Lord and my God.”
We should not be surprised if we wonder if the forgiveness and new life that the risen Jesus offers us is too good to be true. Fear can be a powerful emotion. We need to let go of fear and dream about how to be open to the good things that the Lord wants to continue to do in our lives.