Second Sunday of Easter
Gregory Boyle in his book Barking to the Choir comments on ‘secular culture’ that is depicted as always being ‘hostile’ to Christianity. Boyle does not agree but says, ‘Our culture is hostile only to the inauthentic living of the gospel.’ People who no longer identify as Christian of say it is ‘because of Christians’ – what they see and do not see in their lives. The Acts of the Apostles depicts a community where people shared everything and cared for the needy. As Russian troops encircled the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and began to shell the city, almost half the population were forced to flee, Fr Aleksey Samsonov, a Catholic priest who runs Radio Maria, was determined to stay at his post to console, to encourage and be present with the people who sought assurance that God is still present with them.
Ray Cleary, an Melbourne Anglican priest, has in his book, A Time to Speak, quoting Oscar Romero, questions, ‘A Church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a Gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin, or the word of God that does not touch the real sin of society in which is being proclaimed: what kind of Gospel is that? Father Cleary seems to be reflecting on the hostility of secular culture referred to by Father Boyle is that our churches have lost their prophetic voice and failed to engage with Australian society and institutions and call people to care for another. The ‘we’ is more important than ‘me.’ As with the disciples in fear in the upper room, the call is to change direction and find to courage to abandon concern with image, personal and institutional security, personal morality and individual salvation, to witness to the gospel message of Jesus. When those around us can no longer see Jesus, they are looking for him in our lives. They seek him in communities of faith that care for the needy, that share rather than hoard, that include rather than exclude, listen rather than speak, and look to see if we have wounds that allow us to empathise and show compassion. Jesus holds out his wounded hands to Thomas which prove that his suffering and love are real. Maybe that is what the world is asking from us: to see what we are willing to risk for the sake of love, for the sake of one who loves us.
Though labelled as ‘doubting,’ Thomas never said, ‘I doubt it,’ but ‘I will not believe— unless I see.’ For Thomas, bodies matter and should for the Church-bodies broken in any way by injustice as well as the bodies that bear the marks of torture for confronting the powerful and injustice around them. The risen Jesus bore the wounds he endured at the hands of brutal empire. These are how he is recognised. This history of pain and suffering is not suddenly forgotten or left behind but are still present as they cry out as a witness as a witness to Jesus, his life, passion, death and resurrection. It is through the marks of suffering, that Jesus is recognised. Thomas sees with his own eyes and make his unique response to the Jesus who continually comes and gives us peace and the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to transform this world into a reign of justice, peace, love and joy. That is our task. It also means resisting violence and war, hunger and sickness, homelessness. We cannot do that in a locked room, ghetto, or church building.
Thomas, like many of our contemporaries, doubts the witness of the other disciples who say they have seen the risen Jesus, remain hiding in fear. Despite Jesus’ earlier appearance, they remained locked in fear in the same house, with the same closed doors, and the same locks.
When Jesus appears the second time with Thomas present, it is in Jesus’ wounds and scars, that he sees love and forgiveness not judgment, victory not defeat. Empire’s brutality and cruelty had no power over him. Thomas has recognised and names a new relationship and a new way of being in the world. It has nothing to do with fear determining our lives that keeps people ‘entombed.’
To believe Jesus is risen involves not looking away from our wounds and in others. Being in a locked room or locked church or locked border is not a good place to be for a follower of Jesus. Jesus’ appearance in the upper room is not unlike being at the tomb of Lazarus. He says to Lazarus, to his disciples and to us, ‘Come out!’ He is breathing the Spirit of life, mercy, compassion, courage and peace upon us for us so that we can take that peace to others – so that they too will not make the tomb their natural habitat. Faith is something that walks, touches, responds, and learns.
Pope Francis often warns us, the Church, about being a ghettoed, closeted and closed community that is fearful of change, women’s rights, Muslim, progressive people, the love of gay and lesbian people, and the stranger. We are challenged to move from ‘kleiso’ (closeted)to ‘ecclesia’ (open church). The greatest challenge is not closed doors but closed minds and hearts controlled by fear and that prevent us from opening the doors and removing the stones from the tombs of others.
Thomas, unlike many others, was not locked away in safety. He knew death when he saw it. He knew that rising from the dead had something to do with wounds and scars. Only the God with wounds matters. Only this God can be in solidarity with crucified peoples of the earth and our ailing planet. Today’s gospel passage is super-imposed over each image of a wounded adult or child or the earth. Jesus points to these wounds and says they are his too. The risen Christ comes to us with scars. It witnesses to his oneness with us and all people who bear scars of any kind. Jesus constantly enters the locked places of our lives – the fears, the blindness, the sorrow and scars to open us up to new ideas, new possibilities and change. He invites each day ‘put your finger here’ with our touch, our minds, our hearts and voices. Our faith needs to have hands and feet; it needs voices and a heart capable of crossing walls that divide people.
Pope Francis reminds us how the earth is also being crucified and wounded in the form of countless species’ extinctions, collapse of fisheries, rampant deforestation, demise of coral reefs, rising sea levels, acidified oceans, and rising global temperatures, caused by the unprecedented rise in greenhouse gases from industrial nations. These wounds appear in war and conflict and in famine and drought leading to starvation and death, with people fleeing their drought-stricken lands or sinking coasts. We cannot look away. We cannot ignore these wounds. They are ours too.
Let us not remain in the upper room in fear and hopelessness. Let us do life differently. Let us not avoid the inevitable confrontation that comes when raising our voices about the wounds of our sisters and brothers. Let us believe that we are held together by the presence of one who speaks words of peace, wholeness, connectedness, and inclusiveness?
Love your neighbour. Love the stranger. Hear the cry of the otherwise unloved. Liberate the poor from their poverty. Care for the dignity of all. Let those who have more than they need share their blessings with those who have less. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick in body and mind. Fight injustice, whoever it is done by and whoever it is done against. And do these things because, being human, we are bound by a covenant of human solidary, whatever our colour or culture, class or creed.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, London: Hodder and Staughton, 2015