Wonders, Word, Witness & Worship (2nd Sunday of Easter - Year C)

2nd Sunday of Easter (C)
April 15, 2007

Readings: Acts 5:12-16 / Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 / Jn 20:19-31


Two good, old, reliable methods of heightening truths are the use of comparison or contrasts, whether natural or contrived. Comparison capitalizes on similarities; contrast on dissimilarities. Both aim at clarifying and highlighting an important truth that otherwise may not be so obvious at first blush.

I would like to think that today, the octave of Easter, contrast, not comparison, characterizes our rich Scriptural readings. The first contrasting image I discern is that of crowds – “a large number of people” (1st Reading) versus the image of a solitary John exiled in Patmos (2nd Reading). This is connected with a second contrasting picture – the presence of the disciples in the room where they were gathered “for fear of the Jews,” versus the conspicuous absence of “Thomas, called Didymus, one of the twelve [who] was not with them when Jesus came” (Gospel). The third, and, for me the most intriguing and most important, is the fact that whereas, the Acts of the Apostles reports “yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them,” we are confronted with an anemic – if, non-committal – response from Thomas to the excited and enthusiastic disciples who told him about their visions of the Risen Lord: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hands into his side, I will not believe.”

Luke, in the books of “Acts,” makes much of wonders wrought by God after Jesus rose from the dead. “Signs and wonders” brought them to faith. The “magnalia Dei” that we spoke of in the Easter Triduum led them to believe. The greatest of those signs – the resurrection of the Lord – is still fresh in their minds. A direct experience of what St. Peter calls “the power of the resurrection” led many of them to “know Christ” for who he was – one with the Godhead, risen and alive forever more.

We, too, share in the gifts attached to this power of the Risen Lord, for we, too, are witnesses to these same wonders wrought by God. It is for this that we respond with joy: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting” (Responsorial Psalm).

But here, our discussion on contrasts ends. Here begins an equally important word on comparison. Yes, with the “great numbers of men and women” in Luke’s Acts, we, too, are witnesses to the “many signs and wonders” of the Lord. And no … we are not exactly like the witnesses that they all were. They were primary witnesses, who were immersed in the very vitality of the first generation of believers who “saw and believed.”

Here, I would like to suggest, we find common cause with the much maligned and denigrated Thomas. History and tradition have both been a little too unkind to him, giving him that unsavory epithet the “doubting Thomas.” I would like to believe that Thomas was not so much a “doubter” as he was not a politician. He was honest in his feelings. He was truthful in his thoughts. And he thought aloud … “Unless I see the mark of the nails …” Unlike most politicians, he did not feel the need to lie through his teeth. He did not feel the need to say what others probably wanted to hear from him. He was honest in his doubt, but he, too, was honest in his search for the truth. Absent for some reason the first time, he was present “a week later.” People deeply steeped in despair and disbelief simply do not turn back. They simply don’t come back – like Judas – who went out into the night and was lost forever. But people honest in their doubt and honest in their search keep on coming back .., to the fold, to the community of believers, to the bearers of the good news that God is alive and well. Peter, who denied the Lord three times, got back to the fold. Philip, who once badgered the Lord with a request as impertinent as “show us the Father,” turned back. They all “saw and believed.”

I love Thomas. I thank God for the gift of his “bad example.” For I, too, am more than just a doubter. But whilst Thomas was honest in his doubts, I am not too sure the same adjective fits me to a T. I cannot even lay claim to being honest in my search for Him. I am a doubting Thomas thrice over.

Wonders and signs brought many to the fold of the Risen Lord. First generation believers were immersed deeply in this world of wonders that God has wrought on them and on the incipient Church. But the power of wonders gave way to the greater wonder of the power of Word. Courageous disciples like Peter and the rest of the original company of Jesus, plus one – the one “born out of normal course,” Paul – all took to proclaiming the Word. Not only that, they went into the solid business of giving witness to the power of the Risen Christ in their lives. Wonders, word, and witness … all three brought people to the threshold of faith and life with God.

Thomas missed the wonder of the first appearance of the Risen Lord. But he kept loyal and honest in his unfinished search. He came back to the room. He joined the rest of the disciples gathered there. And what he missed was made up for by word and witness. He heard. He believed. “Faith comes from hearing” (Romans 10:14). Faith comes from hearing, not from touching. Word and Witness sufficed for a man honest in his search. He did not feel the need to touch the wounds. For having heard and seen the faith of his fellow believers, he has already felt himself touched by a God of mercy and compassion, who saw behind his doubt, and who saw the crystalline faith of someone whose honest search for God was greater than his need for earthly and superficial proofs.

Dianne Bergant (2000) says that Thomas represents “the second generation of Christians who are called to believe on the basis of the testimony of others.” He represents you and me. Comparison seems to be the best method up until this point.

But comparison can only go so far. Contrasts cannot fail to turn up as we reflect further and deeper. For I am worse off than doubting Thomas was. His doubt was honest. His doubt was at the service of the ultimate truth. It remained open to the truth. My doubt is resistant. Worse yet, my doubt is rejecting. I am one among a great many postmodern women and men who find common cause at making the words of St. John come true: “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:14).

Judas went out into the night. But we take resort to so many equivalent nights in this world so deeply mired in the culture of death. We resist and rebel at God in so many and varied ways. Cameron (2000) enumerates six. Darkness is one of them. We prefer to keep our thoughts about right or wrong to ourselves “so as not to offend others.” Hiding is another. We hide our true beliefs for fear of being rejected and unwanted by the “enlightened world.” Locked doors is yet another. We lock the doors of our hearts to people who have offended us, who have done “injustice” to us. Fear also takes the better of us. We refuse to do the good we know we should do, for fear of being labeled or talked about. Skepticism robs us of all enthusiasm to do the right thing. “What good will it do? Nobody cares anyway!” And obstinacy fossilizes us in our hard-line stance of “I will not believe!”

Thomas and us constitute a study in comparison and contrasts. We are so like him. We are so unlike him. One thing certain is, we are all called to believe in the Risen Lord … wonders or no wonders. We are gifted with the same possibilities he was gifted with: word and witness. He responded with honesty and unswerving fidelity to the truth that stood out before him. Word and Witness gave way to Worship: “My Lord and my God!”

St. Thomas, help us in our unbelief!

[Paranaque City, April 10, 2007]