Jesus doesn’t hold any grudges. Rather, he calls all people to the light of his truth.
Jesus had every reason to be angry. One Apostle pulled off the biggest faux pas that could have ever happened by betraying the Lord of the universe. Judas left Jesus out to dry. And not in the desert, but on a Cross.
Another one, not much later time-wise, and not any better than the betrayer, denied Jesus in front of those accusing him of being a friend of the Christ. They accused him of the greatest good, that he was an Apostle of his, a close associate, a friend and follower. Instead, Peter acted and spoke like the accusation of close friendship with Jesus was the worst thing in the world. We must be very careful today of not making the very same choice as Peter, because this culture out there is putting the pressure on you to deny your Savior through the very real and present danger of political correctness. When we allow our faith and friendship with Jesus Christ to be put aside because some individual or some group is offended by our faith in him, then consider yourself no better than Peter at his worse, on the morning of our Lord’s last day in a body that could die.
And the crowd that last week of Jesus’ life; from “Hosanna” to “Crucify him.” They sounded like a bunch of fickle Red Sox fans. Jesus had every reason to be justifiably angry at seeing and hearing them turn on him like a Benedict Arnold. They were no better than Judas.
And of course his own religious leaders who couldn’t put him to eternal sleep quick enough. They’re anger at him led to the poisonous sleeping pill called the Cross, although Jesus, we know, gave up his life freely. And to add insult to injury, they lied to him by saying, “Come down off that Cross and we’ll believe who you say you are!” What a crock! What a bunch of phony baloney! If Jesus jumped off the Cross, they would have turned tail and dove under their expensive beds! And when they finally came out of hiding, they would have crucified him all over. “If your friend Lazarus can die twice, then so can you, Jesus!”
He had every reason to be justifiably angry, and even hold a grudge. Instead, what does he choose? “Peace be with you.” What does he choose? “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” What does he choose? To tell them he would suffer, die, be raised on the 3rd day, and that repentance for sins would be preached in his name.
It begs the question, “Did Jesus simply forget all that was spoken about him by way of betrayal, denial, and accusation, and what was done to him?” Did he just move on from the “Crucify him,” and the “I don’t know who he is” three times, and “The one I kiss is the one you can arrest?” Look at how awful he was treated. Has anyone ever been treated worse? Yet, his response to all that human garbage is “Peace be with you.” And, “Preach my name for forgiveness.” Not, “Condemned be with you.” Or, “Preach my name for vengeance and getting even and be angry.”
It seems, on the surface, that our Lord and Savior forgot. He forgot to be human. He forgot what they said and did. He forgot their sinfulness and violent wishes. It seems like he forgot all about their taunts and insults. On the surface, he forgot, it seems.
But open up the Body of Christ. Open up that wound caused by the Roman spear in his side. Open it up wide enough to see Jesus’ heart. His Risen, Sacred heart. And what we now see is that he didn’t forget any of the bad stuff spoken and done to him. All the bad stuff, all the worst of human decisions thrown his way are all part of his sacrifice. Our human wickedness is at the heart of his loving sacrifice. He remembered everything.
“Peace be with you” and “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins” are words spoken by Jesus, not because he forgot all the human weaknesses heaped upon him, but because he remembered all the human weaknesses heaped upon him.
The Lord shows us how to make good and faithful choices, how to live in ways that get past the anger and hurt, how to live each day where the poison of anger and grudges do not consume our hearts and minds.
None of us had it worse than Jesus Christ. Some of us may be treated with contempt and the aggressive, wicked choices of others we may or may not know. Some of us can relate to our Lord and the last week of his life. We can allow ourselves a percentage of his mistreatment. But look at how he comes out the other side. “Peace be with you” and forgive sins. How does this happen? How does anger not get the best of Jesus, when every conceivable opportunity was present for him to just wipe them all out like a bowling ball striking out those pins?
How it happens is that Jesus trusts his Father in heaven. He trusts that the Father’s love is far greater than God’s vengeance. He trusts that all vengeance belongs to God who is the only just Judge, and not to the hands and hearts of human beings. We start wars, small and large; God starts peace and forgiveness, small and large. He looks many miles past our frail choices and profound weaknesses, and says, “Peace be with you.” And, “Your sins are forgiven.”
His appearance in the Upper Room where this intense fear has gripped them all, establishes for all people for all time the gifts of peace and forgiveness. He establishes peace in the midst of fear. Jesus holds nothing against us because he remembers not our waywardness when we seek to live the ways of peace and forgiveness in our lives. For those who hold on to anger and vengeance, they reject the gifts of Christ in the Upper Room. He however, does not operate from anger, even though he has every reason to. Rather, he extends his mercy and love through peace and forgiveness. He wants us to do the same with each other.
All unbelief is wrapped up into the Apostle Thomas. Imagine being labeled “Thomas the Doubter?” If they understood bullying back then like we seem to understand it today, Thomas would have been one of the first victims from a faith perspective.
“Thomas, you didn’t believe we saw the Lord? You don’t believe he appeared to the rest of us? What kind of an Apostle are you? Thomas the Doubter! Thomas the Doubter! Thomas the Doubter!”
Thomas doubting his closest and dearest friends who would never play an April Fool’s joke on him, or lie to him, is both a vice and a virtue. His doubting is obviously a vice because he lacks belief in his heart concerning the number of times Jesus told them, over and over again, that he would be raised three days after they put him to death. Jesus telling his most intimate followers over and over again that he had to suffer and die and be raised could actually be the first case of news overkill. Jesus purchased not only our lives with his blood, but also time on all the news channels with a spot that said, “I must suffer and die, and be raised on the 3rd day.” They must have gotten sick of Jesus telling them this as he prepared them for his end. Because all they heard was, “suffer and die.” The “being raised” part didn’t register.
So, for Thomas, his lack of belief that resulted from his bad timing – he was away when Jesus floated through the door the first time – is a vice. Not accepting the words of Jesus to take hold of our hearts, our beliefs, our entire lives, is a vice. To be so caught up in the things of the earth that results in all forgetfulness of heaven, is a life that is much too busy. And maybe the Apostles were too busy to pay any attention to Jesus’ promise of resurrection. They would not be the last ones to miss the boat on resurrection. There are many today that still do.
But Thomas’ doubting can also be seen in the light of being a strength. How so, you ask? He wanted desperately to see the Lord. He yearned for a close up visual that would penetrate his entire person so much that it would cause him to lay down his life for the Master. We cannot criticize Thomas there! And he not only wants Jesus standing in front of him, he wants to become one with the Lord by placing his hands into the wounds of Jesus. That’s a strength!
Whenever I think of Thomas placing his hand into the side of Jesus, or into his wounds caused by the nails, I can only think of the Eucharist. Most of us receive Jesus in our hands when we come forward for Communion. Some receive on the tongue. But most of us choose to accept the entire Body of Christ; body, blood, soul, and divinity, to be placed into our weak hands of flesh. When we do so, we are symbolically placing our hands into the side of Christ. And into the nail marks. We are being Thomas for real. What a grace we are offered in doing so! What grace the Lord invites us to in the reception of Holy Communion, allowing us mere mortals to become one with him in the bread we share. May we never lose the meaning behind our weekly acceptance of Christ in the Eucharist, of placing our hands into his side, and his entire body. And if we don’t have such faith, may it be made possible through a deeper belief in the truth of Who we consume.
To see Thomas as both a Doubter and a Saint is ultimately a test of faith for us. And we can go one of two ways when we are tested like Thomas.
I’m sure we would all agree on the spiritual point that our faith in Christ is constantly tested. This is what the world does to us on this journey to heaven, and God allows it. Every day, somewhere and somehow we may have the bad timing of Thomas not being present in the Upper Room, which is symbolic of all the difficulties in life. Bad timing for this; bad timing for that. Or we may be told of something really, really good and react, “That’s not possible. That’s way too good to be true! God doesn’t love me that much!”
For example, if I had lived as a hermit for the past 10-12 years, and I came out of hiding, and you knew I was a diehard Red Sox fan, and you told me that in the last 10 years they’ve won the World Series not once, not twice, but three times, and all I could remember was the death of Jesus, or everything that happened to them prior to 2004 when they broke the Curse of the Bambino, I wouldn’t believe you. I would believe that Jesus appeared to you before I would believe the Boston Baseball Team won the World Series 3 times in 10 years. I would probably, like Thomas to his fellow Apostles, call you a liar.
This is the vice side of Thomas. The unbelief that God would actually love us so much, and that we could love one another so much, that he would raise His Son from the death chamber owned by Joseph of Arimathea. Unbelief in God’s superior good dismantles the virtue of love. And that’s pretty much what Thomas told Peter and the gang; “You don’t love me as a brother and Apostle because you’re lying to me!” See the confusion that is caused by the Father of Lies when we refuse the good things of God? We allow ourselves to be bullied by the Devil! And he’s bullying so many people today.
But the other side of being tested is growth. Growth in faith. Growth in belief. Growth in our meaning and purpose of why we follow Christ. Growth as a person through being tested.
Sometimes being absent and having bad timing for great events can lead to a much deeper faith in God. Our world today, and forever until Jesus returns, is far from perfect. Our goal should never be to make this a perfect world. That is profoundly unrealistic! Why? Because we are sinners. Our goal as Christians should always be to love one another. This we have control over. Any level of perfection is reached only through the virtue that most identifies the God we worship, for God is love.
St. Thomas was indeed tested as we are. Fortunately for him, he was blessed to hear the words “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?” If Jesus didn’t show himself again, one week later, Thomas may not have grown in faith and belief that the Lord is Risen. For ourselves, however, we have our Lord’s words spoken on our behalf , “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
All unbelief is wrapped up into the Apostle Thomas. The question for us is, “Which Thomas do we bear witness to?” Follow the Thomas who grew in faith and belief in Jesus Christ.