Becoming the message
Today’s readings: Acts 4, 32-35; 1 John 5, 1-6; John 20, 19-31.
Jesus of Nazareth has given birth to something radically new because, as John writes in his first Letter, he was begotten by God. But the vision of this reality after Jesus, as depicted in Acts and by John, sounds too heavenly and beyond reach. Most of us do not recognise the Church as we know it today in that experience as narrated so early in Church history.
Today’s gospel demonstrates that since the beginning it has never been plain sailing for the Church to transmit the message of Jesus credibly. Thomas in the gospel seems to represent generations of believers who find believing not at all connatural. We need to realise that the proclamation of Jesus was never meant to become in the first place a doctrine but something real, to be experienced rather than thought.
It is intriguing to enter the mind of Thomas and explore what made him be so diffident of what his colleagues were sure of. At face value, we may simply conclude that on his part it was simple doubt, hesitation, maybe curiosity. But more deeply, rather than just wanting himself to touch Jesus, Thomas may have desired to be definitively touched by Jesus.
Only that led him eventually to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and God, a rare declaration of faith in the gospels from among those closest to Jesus. Thomas distanced himself from believing only to grasp and assimilate more profoundly what faith is all about. In this he stood up alone.
In a nutshell, this is the faith we all profess and which, as John says, overcomes the world. Unfortunately what many of us most probably experience is exactly the contrary, namely, the world that extinguishes our faith. Thomas today invites us all to distance ourselves from the cultural religion in which we are rooted to experience deeply the assurance and stability that faith gives inside.
This was the prophecy that transcended the crude reality of events as they unfolded before Easter, the messianic hope contained in Jesus’ greeting to his disciples. The peace given by Jesus was meant to be the vital principle of the Church as the new community, sort of a new beginning in time.
This is, after all, what Easter stands for, a new beginning in time which slams death in the face, the first fruit of the breathing of Jesus on the disciples gathered behind closed doors.
Our issue today, struggling to come to terms with the permanent significance of Easter, is precisely the possibility or non-possibility of witnessing concretely even in our bodily life to the permanence of this life.
The facts of life seem to overshadow all this. They instill fear, kill hope, and make us rigidly refuse to believe in all that is proclaimed in the gospel as good news.
As long as we remain bound to our old conceptions of Church seen as an institution and translated in political models, we will never let go to be assumed in this new breath of Jesus. It will remain the church of Thomas, doubtful, insecure, hesitant, and sure only of its provisional certainties. The first Thomas represents the multitudes who stand aloof of this adventurous experience, belonging to the churches yet “refusing to believe”.
It is to the second Thomas that we need to look up to. Our major challenge in present-day culture is not how to convince outsiders and unbelievers that Christ is risen. But rather how not to remain ourselves on the inside imprisoned in the old religion. Those who proclaimed that Christ was risen as reported in Acts were credible on the strength of who they were rather than on the strength of the message itself.
We must actively risk ourselves to the truth that we believe is true, and this in turn involves staking our lives on the person and the promises of God. Our challenge is not how to transmit the mess-age, but rather how to become ourselves the message.