While we like to think that all of the disciples of Jesus were always and totally with him, a careful read of the Gospels would indicate otherwise. Just two weeks ago as we reflected on the Passion narratives, we saw that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and handed him over to the authorities, the others fled, and Peter denied even knowing who Jesus was. Now, just days later as they are huddled together in the room where Jesus celebrated the Passover with them, Thomas stands out as the one who denies that Jesus could be resurrected and appeared to them.
Often the skeptic Thomas resisted Jesus when he wanted to return to Bethany at the death of Lazarus, and now his tendency to doubt and question raises its head yet again.
As a result of his refusal to accept the appearance of Jesus to the disciples, Thomas has been tainted with the moniker “Doubting Thomas” for much of Christian history.
It is providential to the life of the Church that Thomas takes on this role. It is also a further sign that the authors of the Gospels are inspired by the Holy Spirit as they preserved the story of Thomas for future generations. Several of the disciples of Jesus are limited to the mention of their names in the New Testament, or have one throw-away line or another. But the skepticism of Thomas has been preserved for all time.
As look at the world around us – home, school, work, media, pop culture, the body politic – we see so many people who can claim Thomas as their patron saint. The tendency to doubt or outright rejection of religious faith, even from those who spent years under the tutelage of church-run schools, is confounding to many of us. No family is immune from the faith struggles of its members. Some are quiet in their doubt while others have grown cold and hostile in their lack of faith. Either way, our challenge is to remain steadfast in the face of their doubt, confusion, and rejection.
As we do not know to what extent Thomas poisoned the well among the disciples, we can see the extent to which it happens to us. Do we allow the skepticism of others to undermine our faith more than we use our faith to evangelize their doubts? Presumably the other disciples remained adamant that they had indeed encountered the resurrected Jesus in that room. He was a physically present to them then as he had been only days before. Yes, he mysteriously appeared to them, but his presence was real. We can imagine that even in the face of Thomas’ persistence in doubt, they remained persistent in faith.
These other disciples are for us the sign of power of faith even in the midst of doubt. Sure, they are reeling. Judas and his betrayal of Jesus must have left them angry, confused and at a loss. Peter must also be bearing both the burden of guilt and the brunt of his fellow disciple’s condemnation for his having denied even knowing Jesus during that most tragic of times.
This is both a sign of encouragement and a gentle warning to us as disciples of Jesus. We can get caught so up in the difficulties of others in their faith journey that it leaves us vulnerable to our own doubts and struggles. Even less obvious, but more problematic, is allowing ourselves to trip down the slippery slope to unbelief when we fail to be adamant and steadfast in our own faith.
As we deal with the stubborn Thomas’ in our own lives, we need to look to the other disciples in that Upper Room, who, despite their own struggles, never wavered from their certain belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.
April 30 – Every day we walk the Road to Emmaus
We are called, as disciples of Jesus, to be ever mindful of being in God’s holy presence. Those of us who are products of Catholic Schools know full well that the reminder of being in the presence of God was almost taken for granted. Statues, crosses, religious sisters, brothers and priests, prayer time throughout the day, attendance at Mass regularly, all of these pointed us in the direction of being in God’s presence.
Nonetheless, it is always easy to take being in God’s presence for granted. Perhaps his ever present nature in the midst of our daily lives is easy to overlook. Most of us do not work in environments that drip of Catholic, or at least religious, symbolism and language. The secular religion of the world dominates much of our consciousness. Presidents of corporations have their pictures on walls, it is the name of donors, board members, or employees of the month who gain special attention with their names on plaques and doors, and not the saints or founders of religious communities. It is easy to forget the eternal omnipresence of God.
Cleopas and his companion thought they were attuned to the action of God in their lives. They were disciples of Jesus and were well aware of all the events that had happened over that Passover weekend in Jerusalem. They are close enough to the eleven that they already knew that Jesus had appeared to them earlier in the day. Yet they walked with Jesus, listened to him discuss the Scriptures, and discussed their meaning along the way, all the while they were oblivious as to whom it was with whom they were speaking.
How often do we overlook the encounters that we have with Jesus along the way in our lives? This happens not just to those who have chosen to intentionally ignore God present in their lives, but also to those who seem to be deeply tuned in to faith.
Like these disciples, we can easily put God into the box where we can keep him most comfortably in our lives. We have those situations where we are most open to the encounter or where we go to seek God. Our refuge might be at Mass, or our prayers in the morning or evening, perhaps a Holy Hour or some other devotional that we focus on during the day. We can feel good about ourselves for our prayerfulness and attentiveness. Yet, we can easily miss God present in those circumstances where we tune him out. We might fail to miss God in our neighbor, a crying child, the street beggar, a marginalized coworker or classmate. We might also decide that we want to encounter God in one form of prayer but not another. While we all have a particular style of prayer, certainly we cannot box God into what we want, ignoring where he might be calling us.
These two disciples on the road to Emmaus were so confident in what they knew and what they thought, they knew that they didn’t know that they were in the presence of the resurrected Jesus for the two hours or so it might have taken to walk that way.
God makes himself present to us in many and varied ways throughout our days, let us not be blinded as were these disciples, but let us encounter him in every ordinary experience of life.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.