PASCHAL TIDE 2003
Incredulity of Thomas
Acts 5: 12-20; John 20: 19-31
By Dr. M. R. Brett-Crowther
Today’s epistle shows us the early life of the Church. The believers meet ‘by common consent in the Portico of Solomon’. The Christians pray in the Temple to show their relationship to the faith of all other Jews.
‘No one else ever dared to join them, but the people were loud in their praise and the numbers…who came to believe in the Lord increased steadily.’
Although group pressure kept the majority away, they recognized the qualities of the Christians.
‘So many … wonders were worked among the people at the hands of the apostles that the sick were even taken out into the streets and laid on beds that at least the shadow of Peter might fall across some… as he went past.’
The reputation of Jesus for healing was transferred to his icons, the Christians. Peter was now so renewed by the Holy Spirit that he had healing powers. The good news spread outside Jerusalem, and patients arrived from other towns. We are told that ‘all of them’ – those who were sick, those who were tormented by unclean spirits ‘were cured.’
Then the high priest supported by the Saducees had the apostles imprisoned. The Saducees opposed the Pharisees. The Saducees who were Hellenizers did not hold with religious strictness. They accepted the written Law only. They did not believe in the resurrection of the body; or in angels and spirits. The Pharisees did believe in all that. We are told that an angel, or messenger – aggelos - releases the apostles and sends them to bear witness.
‘Go and stand in the Temple, and tell the people all about this new Life.’
We may suppose that a sympathetic messenger, a devout Jew, has arranged for the apostles to be released; for later in the same chapter (5: 34-40) Gamaliel who is a Pharisee and a doctor of the Law advises the Sanhedrin – the supreme court - to give the apostles the freedom to preach, so that it may be discovered whether their faith is ‘of human origin’. They took an analytical view to determine whether Jesus was all that the apostles claimed for him.
Today’s gospel shows the same process of faith reacting with fact to prove its reality. John gives us an experience of Jesus on the first Easter day: which the Church celebrates by its Paschal Vespers, the vespers of agape, when we read the gospel in various languages. The Church uses John’s gospel at the edge of Holy Week, with the story of the raising of Lazarus, and again with the first chapter of this gospel to declare who Jesus is – the eternal Logos – in the liturgy of Easter day; and carries on the argument by this chapter. The disciples are in a room with closed doors ‘for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them “Peace be with you”, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, “Peace be with you…” ’
When that first flame is passed from the Holy Table’s lamp on Easter morning, and we all take that flame and light our candles with it, the same joy is among us. If Jesus were to appear to us and say ‘Shalom,’or Kalispera or Kalimera, our surprise could not be greater, nor our joy. For this would fulfil our hope, confirm our faith, evoke our love. The gospel goes on to give the words of instruction and authority,
‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’
What had happened with Jesus must happen with us. The power of the Holy Spirit is then given to the disciples by Jesus, who has received from the Father his glory: the glory of having conquered death. By breathing on the disciples, by giving them the direct power of life, he gives them the power to give life to others. The same word for ‘breathe’ in the beginning of the Bible (Gen 2: 7) is used here. John is making the new creation of life in Christ an image of the power of God at the beginning of time. On the last night with the disciples, Jesus had promised them peace, joy and the authority to represent him. The reading from Acts shows these things taking effect. And the conquest of faith is to overcome sin.
Thomas was missing. Thomas had once objected:
‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ (John 14: 5)
Now he will see what it means for Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life (14: 6-7). The other 3 gospels show that the disciples were all troubled by doubt (Matt 28: 17; Mark 16: 11-13; Luke 24: 11-24). In John, the other disciples have already gained faith on Easter day. Thomas demands proof. Thomas asserts his will, negatively. ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe’. Then 8 days later, the Sunday after Easter, with the doors again being closed ‘Jesus came in and stood among them.’ Again he says ‘Peace be with you’, and he invites Thomas to test his theory. Thomas replies ‘My Lord and my God!’ Thomas therefore states the truth of the first chapter of John:
the Word is made flesh. Jesus is God. This is for each of us to discover in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Confronted with that choice, Thomas proves that seeing is believing. That will to disbelieve, that refusal to believe, is now governed by a direct response from his heart. Jesus says: ‘You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ And that is where our will must be asserted positively. We stand in Thomas’ shoes, make his great confession of faith, ‘My Lord and my God!’ and then go on our way to martyrdom with the other disciples, knowing the way, the truth, the life.
John ends by telling us that there were many other deeds of Jesus after his resurrection, but that ‘these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.’ It is through such events that Peter proved what he had declared ‘You are the Christ… the Son of the living God’ (Matt: 16, 16). And Thomas who had seen Lazarus raised and who before that was willing to go to ‘die with him’ (John 11: 16) is now able to die for the truth of this great fact. The tradition is that Thomas died for the faith in Madras, South India, with a spear thrust in his side, like his Master.
Christ is Risen.
This is what all the martyrs have died to proclaim.
This remains our Orthodox faith.
That is our joy and our peace.
Christos anesti ek nekron, thanato thanaton patisas, kai tois en tois mnimasoi, zoin charisamenos.
“Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death through death, and to those in the tombs he has given life.”
© Dr. M. R. Brett-Crowther, May 12 2002
® Editorial Presentation.
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