Sunday, April 15, 2012

Doubting Thomas, Freedom from Fear and Faith

Caravaggio-- Incredulity
   Since I'm sure that there will be an abundance of writing available for this Sunday which is now called Mercy Sunday with its focus on Jesus' commissioning of the apostles to forgive sins in His name I would like to call attention to some other facets of this Sunday's Gospel text from John 20, facets which traditionally have been the focus of this Whit-sun or White Sunday.

   In the beginning of the passage from John 20:19-31 we are told that the disciples were locked in a room out of fear. We are told that it is a "fear of the Jews."  I have stated this before on this blog but I feel that I must repeat it once in a while that the word "Jew" in the Gospel of John must always be understood to mean the temple authorities and not Jews in general, much in the way that people sometimes refer to the "Catholic Church" meaning the Vatican or the bishops and not all Catholics.  The real issue here is that they have not yet embraced the peace, joy and freedom of the Resurrection.  The real wall is not the wall of the room, but their fear.  How often does fear paralyze us and prevent us from seeing Christ and from acting in His name.  How often does fear block us from loving others or from simply enjoying life?  Can we allow Christ to break through the barriers of our fears and set us free?

   And then there is our friend the doubting Thomas portrayed in the Caravaggio painting above. I think that Thomas is too often portrayed as having less faith than the other apostles.  The truth is that the apostles were in general pretty weak in faith, abandoning Jesus on the night before his death as we read elsewhere in the Gospels, not to mention Peter's threefold denial.  What we often miss is that Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared to the others.  He at least was not locked in out of fear.  His lack of faith was a lack of trusting his brother disciples. This, I believe, challenges us in several ways.  For one, are we believable in our witness to the faith?  Do we practice what we preach.  I think that Thomas didn't want to risk believing again and that he didn't find what the others were doing too convincing.  In addition, Thomas was off on his own.  It is difficult to maintain faith apart from the community.  This is one of the many reasons why Church is important, to support us in our faith.  As a friar and priest my faith is stronger not only because of the example of my Franciscan community but also because of the example of so many lay people with whom I cross paths.

   The final component of this Gospel text is the empowering of the disciples to forgive sins in Jesus' name.  Without being set free from fear and confirmed in their faith can they exercise this ministry of forgiveness and proclamation the Reign of God.

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