The Faith of the Community

Second Sunday of Easter | YEAR B

Gospel: Jn 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.


Readings:  Acts 4:32-35 | Psalms 118:2-24 | 1 John 5:1-6


REFLECTION | HOMILY

WE sometimes encounter or have conversation with people who stubbornly refuse to accept any explanation we give them, especially if our point of view or the information we’re sharing them runs contrary to theirs, unless some external evidence proves our point. Most of us would probably just give up, leave them to what they believe in and end the conversation saying: “You’ll see.”

trustOr it could also be the other way around. How many times did we respond to people who were trying to convince us about an idea, an argument or promoting a cause and we respond by saying “prove it” or “what’s your evidence”? That is why some would say that our society today is so dominated by a culture of suspicion and mistrust. We are suspicious, if not totally mistrusting, of our institutions—banks, government and yes, even the Church.

But as my favorite Dominican preachers would argue, even in this culture of suspicion and mistrust we are still able to accept the trustworthiness of others because there are ways to verify any claim to truth upon which we can base our trust. They also say that same social dynamics apply in the world of religion and religious faith.

A couple of weeks ago, in my homily, I talked about the knowledge we have about Christ; we know Christ by reputation, through the witnesses of those who were able to see Him face to face. Furthermore, my parish priest told us last week that the proof that Christ is indeed risen is in the change that happen to those who encounter the risen Christ—Peter who denounced Jesus three times before the crucifixion became the rock of our Church; Paul who wanted to eradicate the followers of Christ like what ISIS is doing right now became the most successful evangeliser of the faith especially for gentiles like us after the encounter with the risen Christ. We can verify the truth about Christ and about God because we can see and hear the witness of others—through sharing in their knowledge and experience. That is we can separate our relationship with God—our life of faith— and relationship with our fellow Christians.

thomasbelievingIn our gospel, Thomas was not with the community when Jesus first appeared to them. And so Thomas refused to believe. It is easy to see Thomas in a negative light. But if we are in his place, would we not also at least be skeptical when told of an incredible—even outrageous—story and expect to believe it without proof? Don’t we also wonder, when we are told of a wild religious experience, how much comes from God and how much from the imagination?

However, a preacher observed that what seems striking in the story of Thomas is not much that Thomas wanted to see the Risen Christ—demand some evidence that Christ is indeed risen. He only asked nothing more than what has already been granted to his brother disciples. But the point of the matter is that Thomas refused to believe in the testimony of his community; his failure was his inability or unwillingness to trust the greater experience of his colleagues and to some extent blind to the evidence before him. He should have seen the transformation of his brothers and sisters in the faith from being afraid, hopeless and powerless into believers who were clear-sighted, courageous and hope-filled people—people who were given the gift of peace by the Risen Lord.

And this makes Thomas similar to most of us in our modern circumstance. And yet there is a positive quality that we can also learn and imitate from Thomas. Certainly, Thomas did not lack the courage or faith in Jesus, his Lord—we cannot accuse him of that. And why should we? This was the man who became a great missionary in establishing the faith in lands outside the Roman Empire and as far as India. The positive in Thomas’ frankness is that when he did not understand, he questioned. He questioned in order that he might understand and believe. Once he understood, his surrender to the truth was total; his profession of faith: “My Lord and my God” was most sincere. Hence, the witness of Thomas and of the other apostles through their missionary activities would become for us—those who did not share the first-hand knowledge and experience of Christ—the ground upon which we could in trust enter into our own journeys of faith, the truth which faith could then be verified, as we said earlier, by our own lived experiences.

Today, we are faced with two challenges as followers of the Risen Christ. On the one hand, we are being challenged to be open of mind and heart and to trust on the witnesses of our fellow Christians; to not look for extra-ordinary miracles to confirm our faith but to be able to see the miracles that faith brings in the ordinariness of our own and other people’s lives. On the other hand, each and every one of us is being challenged to be a living witness to the gospel. The truth of our faith will only be glimpsed by others if our lives in some way validate or support what we profess—when our actions themselves becomes the evidence of our belief.

people-of-godIt is also a kind of witnessing that helps others in their own journeys of faith to encounter the Risen Christ; to respond to genuine doubters like Thomas, not with apathy or even antipathy or condemnation but with a sincere concern to meet and help others overcome their difficulties, just like how Jesus responded to Thomas’ doubt. And that’s another thing in understanding our faith, by God’s grace the first community of disciples—the Church—left us with plenty of evidence upon which we can ground our faith. The last sentence in the gospel clearly stated this: “These are written that you may come to believe.”

If we can meet these twin challenges—being open in seeing the works of God in our and other people’s lives and by becoming authentic witnesses of the Gospel—then the world can trust us—Christ’s Church—into entering a journey of encounter with Christ, seeking his forgiveness and being transformed into a new humanity enjoying the peace of God.