Doubt?

23 April 2017
Second Sunday of Easter
Easter 2A (RCL)
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Thomas gets a bad rap. He doesn’t doubt; he refuses to believe, or to trust. The Greek is quite emphatic. I would translate his line, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will never, ever believe.” And when Jesus shows up and shows him his hands and his side, he say to him, “Do not be untrusty, but trusty.” It’s a very far stretch to translate Jesus’ line as “Do not doubt, but believe.” The word pistos in Greek can really only mean trusty.

Thomas, the spokesperson in some circles, for gnostic Christians, insists on touching the wounds of Christ. And when he does, he proclaims Jesus “My Lord and my God,” or in Latin, dominus et deus. This was the title Domitian insisted on. Gnostic Christians were saying that since Jesus didn’t really suffer, they needn’t either and could cross their fingers behind their backs when put to the test by the magistrate in the Domitian persecution. Thomas, the Twin, insists that without wounds, it is not Christ who appears.

One wonders what Thomas was doing that first Easter evening. The disciples had locked themselves in a room, for fear of the Jews. This is exactly the same reason the parents of the man born blind dodge the Pharisees’ question, because they had already agreed to put out of the synagogue anyone who confessed the Christ. The disciples are about to be expelled, and so are afraid. Thomas, wherever he was, insists on seeing the wounds, not only of Christ, but of the community.

When Jesus does appear, he speaks peace to the disciples (three times in this passage). Clearly, they were being riven by some conflict. He then sends them as the Father had sent him — in every capacity; as judge, as reconcilers, as representatives of the Father — they carry the whole richness of the Gospel. And then he breathes on them, and invites them to receive holy breath.

And says, “The sins of whoever you forgive, are forgiven them. The sins of whoever you retained are retained.” When the disciples forgive sins, they are forgiven for those whose sins they were. But when they retain sins, they retain them for themselves. Community wounds cannot be healed if we insist on holding on to the sins of others (or our own for that matter). Ann Landers famously said, “Bearing a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” The gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples replaces the Great Day of Atonement, now that the Temple is gone. It is our responsibility to bring people into or keep them out of the community of the people of God. And the only way to do that is to be honest with one another about our woundedness, forgive grudges and live in peace.

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