Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL
Acts 4, 32-35 Psalm 118 1 John 5, 1-6 John 20, 19-31
After more than forty years of study, prayer, and preaching with this text, something new is beginning to dawn on me. Perhaps it has simply taken that long for me to get over it, because being named “Thomas” always put me in a defensive mode when hearing this story. I recall going through a time when I defended him. I would image all sorts of reasons for his absence, and excuse his interaction with the others thinking that because he was out buying the food or preparing meals for that group in the upper room he did not get to share in their conversations and experiences which included previous visits of the Lord.
What I have finally begun to realize is that this is not about Thomas at all. It is about Jesus Christ risen among his people. Thomas is not the point of the story. Jesus is the point of the story. It is the behavior and the words of Jesus that matters most of all. That situation with Thomas is just a set-up for the appearance of Jesus and more wonderful and joyful revelation. What Thomas speaks and proclaims is really the first “Creed”. The first profession of faith. Isn’t it interesting what happens in four hundred years to the “Creed?” It goes from 5 words to 224 counting the Amen! It was a lot easier to memorize, and nobody messed with the translation of that first creed to get us mixed up.
We must pay attention to Jesus in this story. He comes to them when they are afraid. A Gospel writer says that they had the doors locked “for fear of the Jews.” I suspect that “fear of the Jews” was just an easy excuse. I think they were afraid to see Jesus face to face; afraid of what he might say about the recent behavior. Yet, there he is. Does he berate them for their shameful and cowardly behavior? Does he scold them? Does he look at Peter and say: “I told you so”, or ask were Judas is? None of that. He simply says: “Peace.” Everything is fine. He knows them. He loves them. He called them his own. He embraces their weakness and their failure. Their not too dependable loyalty and even their absence still merits his presence. It’s as though with Thomas he is just going to keep coming back until he finds Thomas there where he belongs. He knows all their doubts and their fears, and he simply comes to be among them bringing them peace.
It is a moment of Divine Mercy. It is a message of hope to a church that he has not left them, and that when his presence is acknowledged, they will know peace and the joy it brings. To imperfect and broken people Jesus entrusts his final and best gift, peace. He describes that gift in terms of merciful forgiveness. It is never earned nor deserved. If it were, it would not be “mercy.” What he asks of them in those words of sending is mercy. What they receive from him they must give.
The power to show mercy comes from being a broken person. The power to show mercy comes from the knowledge and the feeling in your heart that you owe everything you are and have to sheer divine mercy. That is exactly what was going on in that upper room. They had come to the realization that they deserved nothing. They were helpless and hopeless. They were cowards and unfaithful, and in that truth they were able to say and accept the fact that every joy and virtue, every distress, and every success they knew came from the free and undeserved mercy of God.
So, here we are in that upper room. As far as Jesus is concerned, those people in that room were not his friends. In running and hiding, denying and abandoning him, they were as complicit in his suffering and death as the Romans and the “leaders of the people.” Having done nothing to stop it, they were as guilty as anyone. Yet, there he is with the blessing of Peace, and the Joy that wells up from this undeserved mercy is remarkable.
What we see here is the proof of real mercy: the power to see distress, feel pity, perform relief and all of that toward an enemy or someone you thought was your friend.