Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Freedom, St. Thomas, Unpardonable Sin, 7th Sunday After Pentecost
Volume 8 No. 488 July 4, 2018
 
III. Featured: St. Thomas

The Apostle Thomas and Jesus Christ
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Introduction

St. Isaac describes doubt as being caused by demons and therefore no amount of knowledge and swiftness of mind is enough to withstand these enemies of God and man who wish to drag each one of us into Hell, little by little.[1]

The Apostle Thomas and Christ

Today we are instructed about doubt through Thomas' example in the Gospel passage that was just read. Thomas is one of the twelve Apostles who had heard, was taught, struggled, and endured all things with the other Apostles. With the other Apostles, he also had the power to heal sicknesses and cast out devils (Mk. 3:15). When Jesus left for Judea after being informed that his friend Lazarus was dead, it was Thomas who said to the other disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16ff) for the people of Judea had previously attempted to stone Christ.

When Christ says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," it is in response to Thomas' question, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (John 14:5).

In this intimate environment of Christ's Apostles is where Thomas lived and although they all had seen the dead raised, the leper's cleansed, and the blind given sight, still he doubted the words of his friends when they told him that Christ had risen from the dead.

The Gospel tells us that Thomas was not with the other disciples on the day when Christ rose from the dead and appeared to them. Therefore, when the disciples saw Thomas, they announced to him that they had seen the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Thomas replies, saying, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

Now it is eight days after Christ's resurrection, the disciples are gathered together in a room, and Christ appears to them all and then speaks directly to Thomas.

It is to Thomas that he says, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing." And Thomas answered and said unto him, "My Lord and my God." Jesus saith unto him, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:27-29).

Thomas' Doubt

What Christ addresses is Thomas' doubt, which is quite apparent to us all, but how He does this is what is of concern for us today.

Why did Thomas not believe? Instead of light, the announcement by the Apostles only brought darkness to Thomas. He who was willing to go and die with Christ, expected that Christ would come and find him if He had risen, St. Romanos remarks, and yet Christ didn't.[2]

Worthy of note, though, is that nowhere do we observe Christ rebuking or chastising Thomas because of his doubts. Instead, as it is said of our Saviour: "A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench" (Matt. 12:20). Christ comes to Thomas to alleviate him of this poison of doubt, this spiritual obstacle, this stifling of the fullness of joy which Pascha should impart to each one of us. Narrating this moment between Thomas and Christ, St. Romanos writes: "Have compassion on me, Master, as I boldly handle [You], and accept me, Lover of mankind…"[3]

  • If Christ has come to save sinners, would He not comfort the doubters?
  • If He did not come to call the righteous, would He not alleviate those beset by this darkness?
  • If He came to the lost sheep of Israel, would He not seek out those bewildered by disbelief?
  • If He came to set the prisoners free, would he not unfetter us from the shackles that enslave us with suspicion and distrust?
  • If He came to heal the brokenhearted, would he not mend the skepticism which rends the heart?
  • If He came to give sight to the blind, will He not apply a healing salve to give clarity to the vision of our nous?
  • If He came to give liberty, will He not free those imprisoned by mistrust?
  • If Christ left the ninety and nine to seek out the one who was lost, will He not come find you who is lost and wandering in the darkness of doubtfulness?

Behold, the condescension of God, the Lover of mankind. You, Thomas, made of clay and of the fallen race of men. You reach your finger here and touch my hands, the hands of Him who made man. Reach your hand here and touch my side. Touch him who is clothed with majesty[4], who covers Himself with light as with a garment (Ps. 104.2).

It is because of Thomas' doubt that we commemorate him today. For us who may be full of doubts, despite God's providence which has lead us here, despite the work of His saints intervening in our lives and even healing some of us, despite the spiritual rest we might experience at times in this holy habitation. Like Thomas abiding with the Apostles of Christ, we still doubt. Eight days ago we celebrated the Bright Resurrection of Christ with the festal Bright Week services up until now when we consider the topic of doubt.

Today, Christ comes to Thomas and comes to us baring his wounds to heal our unbelieving hearts. Blessed are you when doubts assail you and all is looking dark even though you have not seen Christ, but yet you believed (Cf. John 20:29). "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24). As St. Leo the Great writes:

[Christ] offers to the doubters' eyes the marks of the cross that remained in His hands and feet and invites them to handle him with careful scrutiny. He does this because the traces of the nails and spear had been retained to heal the wounds of unbelieving hearts, so that not with wavering faith but with the most certain conviction they might comprehend that the nature that had been lain in the sepulcher was to sit on God the Father's throne.[5]

"Thomas' unbelief," says St. Gregory the Great, "was of more advantage to our faith than the faith of believing disciples, because when he was led back to faith by touching Jesus, our minds were relieved of all doubt and made firm in faith."[6]

Questions

I) Why did Christ wait eight days?

From our own experience, do we not understand this? We are not quickly relieved of most burdens with such speed and instead are waiting for an indefinite period of time, waiting on the Lord to help us in His good time. It was the same for the Apostle Thomas who continued to dwell with the other disciples, hear stories of the risen Christ and thereby prepare himself to finally see Christ as we should also amidst these unsettling times. Therein is patience nurtured in us and therein we learn how God works in our own lives seeing how He responds to us. We are taught that this Christian path is that narrow path, that we will have a cross to bear, we should not be surprised by this despite being surprised by how difficult it is at And yet, as the Apostle Paul tells us,

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18)

As Christ came to Thomas while he was amidst the other Apostles keeping fellowship with them, so Christ will seek us out.

II) What are we supposed to do amidst these times of doubt?

i) Confess these thoughts to our spiritual father. Why leave this snake in our bosom which will only harm us. There is no way that this can turn out for the best when we keep this to ourselves.
ii) pray – because where else are we to go to be consoled and to find shelter amidst this storm?
iii) Love – for when we learn to love God, we shall not grieve at the present troubles but, as St. John Chrysostom said, we will not even appear to see them because of the strength of such a thing as this love. He further describes this saying,

Those, for instance, who are not at present with us, but being absent we imagine every day, are loved. For mighty is the sovereignty of love (αγάπης), it alienates the soul from all things, and chains to the desired object. If thus we love Christ, all things here will seem to be a shadow, an image, a dream. We too shall say, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress?" (Rom. 8:35)[7]

iii) And lastly, humility. Returning to the first mention St. Isaac, we recall that he designates doubt as being the tool of the demons. In describing doubt in the hour in which it is the most paralyzing and darkest, St. Isaac writes: "All your knowledge will be in turmoil like that of a child. And your mind which was firmly established in God, the accuracy of your knowledge, and your sound thinking will be immersed in an ocean of doubts."[8] The only thing to vanquish these doubts is humility, which, he says, as soon as you take hold of it, all the power of the demons vanish.[9]

Conclusion

We can never avoid doubts whether their cause is intellectual, physical, relational or through some other means. And yet, Christ has not abandoned us and even seeks us out to assuage our doubt and the sorrow it causes. May we bear this burden with humility like our Savior who is meek and lowly of heart, (Matt. 11:29) for those who are humble are given grace by God and shall be exalted and lifted up and will find rest for their souls. [10]

If we are humble, Christ will seek us out, will come to us, and alleviate us of our doubts as he did for the Apostle Thomas, in that very particular way in which the Apostle needed and in the way that each of us need.

Through the prayers of the Apostle Thomas, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

References

[1] "Homily Fifty-Seven" in The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1984), 284.
[2] "On the Apostle Thomas" in On the Life of Christ: Chanted Sermons by the Great Sixth-Century Poet and Singer. trans. Archim. Ephrem Lash. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995), 186.
[3] Ibid., 183.
[4] Saturday evening, Prokeimenon for Great Vespers, 6th Tone.
[5] Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2007) IVb, 358ff.
[6] Forty Gospel Homilies trans. Dom David Hurst. (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990), 207.
[7] "Homilies on St. John" in NPNF, 1st Series, ed. Philip Schaff. (Hendrickson: Peabody 1999, 14:329ff-330f.
[8] "Homily Fifty-Seven," 284.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Cf. Matt. 23:12; James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:5

© 2018 Hermitage of the Holy Cross.

I Make All Things New

by Michael Simone

READINGS
Acts 2:42-47, Ps 118, 1 Pt 1:3-9, Jn 20:19-31

Anyone who has undertaken a new way of life knows how challenging it is to leave behind old ways of thinking. It does not matter if a person is a recovering alcoholic or a monastic novice. Beginners everywhere learn quickly how many of their behaviors result from deeply conditioned habits. After a lifetime, these patterns can be difficult to change, much less eradicate.

Living out the resurrection requires such a transformation. John the Baptist and Jesus called for metanoia, which is usually translated as “repentance,” but its fuller mean is something like “change of mind.” They knew that spiritual freedom required more than just acts of will. It required a new way of thinking that gives no room to previous habits and expectations. The first reading this week gives a superb example of this. The early Christians in Jerusalem shared a life that was starkly different from communities outside the church. In their prayer and care for each other, they gave the world an example of radically changed thinking.

The Gospel reading today shows how difficult such changes can be at first. Jesus won a victory not just over death, but over death’s grip on the human mind. His resurrection confounded the leaders who sought to gain by his death. He shared this victory with his disciples not with displays of power but with greetings of peace. He sent them out with the Spirit, not to do battle like Israel’s judges of old but to forgive sins and preach repentance.

Thomas too had to overcome his habits of thought. He initially responded exactly as the world had conditioned him to respond. Even if he had found his fellow disciples trustworthy in the past, he refused to believe their improbable story without the proof of his own senses. That Jesus returned a week later to give Thomas that very proof shows how much our Lord loved him and how important it was for them to understand and believe in his resurrection.

Disciples in every generation must overcome the same conditioning in order to live out the resurrection. Our second reading fixes our minds on the children of God we can become—imperishable, undefiled, unfading. We do not have the opportunity that Thomas had, to put our hands on the physical wounds of Christ, but images like this can help us transform our minds without having seen. Historically, many people have seen the wisdom of Christ’s ethical teachings and even applied them to their acts and decisions. Fewer have been able to life without a habitual, if subconscious, fear of death. The apparent triumph of decay and loss over everything we hold dear can drive even the best of us to despair and cynicism. New life requires committed belief that Christ’s resurrection is a foreshadowing of our own. As this belief in our own resurrection grows in us, old habits rooted in fear of death and loss start to lose their power. We can forgive and teach others to do so; we can experience peace even in the midst of conflict; we can find reasons for faith when all around us despair; we can become servants of Christ’s mission, sharing his risen life with all we meet.

About Michael Simone

Michael R. Simone, S.J., is an assistant professor of Scripture at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

Absent for Easter

by Margaret Manning Shull

A long-time friend of my husband's paid us a visit over the Easter weekend. Growing up together, life had taken them both in very different directions. I enjoyed listening to their reminiscing about childhood events they had shared together. When the conversation turned to Easter Sunday festivities, a solo-hiking trip was planned even as his family would be elsewhere. How strange, it seemed to me for him to be absent from them on Easter. But as he talked I realized that Easter Sunday was like any other Sunday. There was no recognition of the day or of its significance for Christians around the world.

The conversation left me feeling sad that such a significant day is for most a day of chocolates and eggs, if it is even that at all. There have been Easter Sundays that have come and gone without much notice in my own life as well. Even though I am present in body and mind, my heart is often disengaged from the significance of this day. Thankfully, the Christian celebration of the season of Eastertide invites all to inquire—whether present or absent on Easter Sunday— into how the continuing presence of the risen Lord manifests himself in our day-to-day reality.

The disciple Thomas also missed Easter Sunday, in a way. Remembered in Christian tradition as "doubting Thomas," he was not physically present when Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. Locked up in a room because of their fear of the Jewish authorities, the ten remaining disciples may have been huddled together puzzling over Mary Magdalene's pronouncement that she had seen Jesus, alive and well, after her visit to his tomb. John's Gospel does not tell his readers why Thomas is not present with the other disciples; he simply records that on "the first day of the week… Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, 'Peace be with you….' But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came." (1)

When Thomas did show up, the other disciples proclaimed their good news to him. They too, like Mary before them, had seen the risen Jesus. He was alive and he had come to them. Thomas is not convinced and tells them so. "Unless I see in his hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." Thomas could have made this declaration out of a place of despair rather than disbelief. Unfortunately, for him, the history of biblical interpretation and teaching has sided with the latter. Thomas is "doubting Thomas" who refused to believe; all because he wasn't there on that first Easter appearance of Jesus.

But is this really the case? Earlier in John's gospel, it is Thomas who boldly pledges to go with Jesus to Bethany so "that we might die with him."(2) After touching the scars on Jesus' hands and side he declares him to be both "My Lord and My God." Thomas is the only disciple after Peter to publicly announce Jesus's identity as both human and divine. Yes, but what about the fact that Jesus seems to chide him when he says: "Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." Immediately, my mind wants to single him out from the others as the unbeliever—and yet, we are told in both Mark and Luke's Gospels that the disciples didn't believe the testimony of the women to whom Jesus had first appeared.(3) They also needed to see Jesus in order to believe. Finally, when Jesus comes again to see the disciples he appeals to Thomas directly and encourages him to touch him, just as Thomas has asked to do. "Reach here and see my hands; reach here your hand and put it into my side." Believe, Jesus says with this gesture. It is me.

Thomas is not the only one who was absent on Easter Sunday, of course. There are myriad others who miss it, both literally and spiritually. The risen Jesus obscured from view because of doubt and despair, unanswered prayers and echoing persistent pleas, or the slow grinding down of expectations and dreams. The evidence seems too scant, implausible, or simply does not matter enough even if the evidence was overwhelming. Neither the gospel writer nor Jesus seems concerned about the whys of incredulity. Jesus simply comes near and gives Thomas exactly what he needed: his wounded hands and side.

And this is good news. If Easter Sunday is only about an historical event of long ago, which only comes but once a year, then there is not much hope for me, or for Thomas, or for anyone who is seeking the risen Jesus. If Jesus is truly raised, then the entirety of reality changes as a result of his on-going presence. For Thomas, the invitation by Jesus to touch him and to feel his wounds compelled him all the way to India—where church historians believe he brought the gospel and founded the Christian church that exists there to this day.

For all who feel disconnected from Easter Sunday in one way or another, Jesus extends the invitation to reach out, touch and see him. And even if we stand confused at the mystery of the resurrection, or wandering in despair on the road to Emmaus, there is hope that Jesus will find us. There may be seasons characterized more by absence or lack, than presence. And yet, as the story of Thomas demonstrates, despair and doubt can be a part of a path that leads to Jesus. As one writer notes, "Thomas may have doubted but he also must have hoped against all painful hope because he stuck around…. Thomas who discovers God in the broken body of God's own risen son. Believing Thomas, who discovers something of who God is, in the presence of Jesus' wounds."(4) May we all become like believing Thomas and declare in this Eastertide: My Lord and My God.

References:

(1) See John 20:18-29.
(2) John 11:16.
(3) Luke 24:10-11; Mark 16:11.
(4) Newton, Rev. Alissabeth. "Faithful Thomas," Sermon, St. Paul's Church, Seattle, April 27, 2014. Accessed online April 25, 2016.

About The Author:

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

Source: A Slice of Infinity
Copyright © 2017 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, All rights reserved.

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