Monday, May 2, 2011
Mercy Conquers Fear and Doubt
As we make our way through life, we come to expect let-downs and disappointments. Because of so many unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations, we grow cynical of anything that can seem too good to be true. Our hearts cake themselves in callouses to protect us from future disillusionment. And so, we come to demand proof and assurances before committing ourselves to anything.
Such is the case with Thomas and the other apostles in today's gospel. They had set all their hope in Jesus. They had left their jobs and families to follow Him. And it all came to a horrifying and humiliating end with the crucifixion. Now they were reduced to hiding behind a locked door for fear that the authorities would do to them what they had done to Jesus.
While they were cowering in fear, Jesus appears to them. John tells us that He shows Himself to them "despite the locked doors". John is not just referring here to the heavy wooden doors of their hiding place. He is talking about the closed doors of their hearts. Jesus breaks through the door of their fear. Jesus doesn't wait until they calm down or get perspective on the situation before appearing to them with the good news that He is alive.
Just as Jesus is not shut out by the closed doors of the apostles' fear, neither is He shut out by the closed door of Thomas' doubt. Instead, taking up His challenge, Jesus appears to Thomas so that he can put his doubt aside. The nail marks on his hands, feet and side dispel any doubt that this is truly the Risen Jesus standing before him.
All of us, no matter how deep our faith, come before God with a more or less closed heart. Our heart might be closed to Jesus' message out of fear that God will take from us more than we're willing to give. Or, we might fear that we'll be made fun of if we live His message in a total and radical way. Our hearts may also be hardened by doubt. With so many different religions and so many different opinions, we might wonder, who's to say which is the right way?
No matter where we are in our faith - no matter how closed our hearts may seem - Jesus can break through and reveal Himself. If you can only go so far, Jesus can meet you there. If you can only believe so much, Jesus can take your hand and lead you a little further along. There is no doubt, no fear, no weakness that Jesus through the power of His resurrection and the power of His Holy Spirit cannot surmount.
Thomas is an example for us here. He is famous for his doubt - but his story doesn't end there. After his experience of the Risen Jesus, tradition tells us that he went on to preach the gospel in India. He is often pictured with a spear, because while in India preaching the good news, he was run through with a spear and killed. Doubting Thomas was martyred for his witness to the good news of Jesus' resurrection. Jesus broke through the closed door of Thomas' doubt and filled him with the faith which enabled him to eventually give his life for Jesus.
We have heard the story of Jesus' resurrection and will now celebrate the meal of His Body and Blood. If we really take seriously what we are receiving, each of us will approach this tremendous mystery with some fear and some doubt. Nonetheless, whatever our level of faith or doubt, trust or fear, the same Jesus gives Himself to each of us. Let us open the doors of our hearts to Jesus and embrace the gift of His peace and the gift of His Holy Spirit. When our lives change because of it - when our fear and doubt are dispelled - then we will know what it means that Jesus is still alive.