1 May 2011
Second Sunday of Easter
Easter 2A (RCL)
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
Our translations of the Bible have perpetrated a big misunderstanding of the story of Thomas. After Jesus has invited Thomas to touch his hands and side, he says to him (in the NRSV), “Do not doubt, but believe.” What Jesus says in the Greek is, “Do not be untrusty, but trusty.” We have come to see doubt as the opposite of faith. This story makes it clear that fear and faith are opposites.
The disciples meet on the evening after Mary Magdalene has encountered the risen Jesus. They lock the doors, “for fear of the Jews.” That is actually a good translation. We don’t know whether the disciples are afraid of the Jews, or the Jews are afraid. The ambiguity is there in the Greek. Jesus appears among them, and says, “Peace to you.” (He says it three times in this passage.) Thomas isn’t there. When the disciples tell him about it, he says, “Unless I see, I will not believe.” He refuses to believe, to trust.
For me, this passage raises the question, What do resurrected wounds look like? What is it that Thomas wants to see and touch. Of course, gnostic christians could claim that Jesus didn’t really suffer, only appeared to die, because they couldn’t accept a divine revealer who suffered. Thomas insists on a God who suffered. Among christian communities, we need Thomases. We can get into that way of thinking that every thing is wonderful. I know Christians who think that if they believe right, well enough and hard enough, then only good things will happen to them. It is devastating to them if something bad happens.
We need a Thomas to say, show me, then I can trust. Show me a God who can get down into the nitty gritty with us, and that God I can trust. The passage with Thomas completes the narrative of John’s Gospel (the 21st chapter looks like an appendix). Jesus had told the disciples the week before, “Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and then breathed on them, and said, “Receive holy breath. The sins of whoever you release are released to them. The sins of whoever you hold on to are held on to.” But the disciples still lived in fear. Again, a week later, they are locked in the same room. You can’t forgive wounds that you can’t confront, whether your own or someone else’s.
The epistle of Peter talks about an inheritance kept for us in the heavens with God, anticipating Jesus’ imminent return, and allows, by way of concession, that we may have to suffer various trials in the meantime. Thomas would insist that it is exactly in those trials that we experience the resurrection. When Jesus appeared to Mary, he told her not to hold on to him, as he not yet ascended to the Father. As we let go of them, see them transformed, we experience the new life that is the resurrection. The community that can face its wounds and see them transformed is a community that can be trusted. “Do not be untrusty, but trusty.”