APRIL 27 EASTER 2 REFLECTION

2nd Sunday of Easter (April 27 2014)

ROCKINGHAM UNITING CHURCH

 

BIBLE READINGS

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

 

REFLECTION

Doubt is a Companion of Faith 

One of my favourite television programs nowadays is a British comedy show called, Would I Lie to You. Every week, the show has a panel that consists of a host, two comic captains, and four guests. The panel is divided into two teams. Each person from each team has to tell a secret and the people in the opposing team has to guess whether the secret is true or a lie.

The secrets, however, are not ordinary secrets; they are outrageously improbable, although still possible, events. For examples, the panel has to decide whether or not to believe that a member of the panel once named his Christmas puppy after a gravestone, or was bottle-fed with coffee when he was a baby, or named her chickens after newsreaders, or put a camera on her cat to see if it was turning the taps on, or knitted leg warmers for birds, or dreamt that he was a potato, or read in a sauna, or had two chilies tattoos on her back removed because they looked like carrots, or invited chimpanzee around for tea.[1]

I dont know about you, but if someone tells me that he once invited a chimpanzee to come to his house for a tea, I will be very skeptical. Thats why I can understand how, in our reading today from Johns Gospel, Thomas was skeptical about the testimonies, which he heard from the other disciples, about Jesus resurrection. Just like the other disciples, he had been completely demoralised by Jesus seemingly powerless death on the cross. He must have seen, with his own eyes, how Jesus drew his last breath on the cross; and how his lifeless body was taken down from the cross and laid inside a tomb.

So when the other disciples told him that they had seen Jesus, alive! Thomas must have thought it as rubbish. No one could have survived the kind of wounds that the Roman soldiers had inflicted on Jesus body from head to toe. So he said to other disciples - perhaps in a mocking tone, intended to ridicule their testimony - that unless he saw and touched the wounds on Jesus body, forget it! He would never believe such nonsense.

We know the rest of the story, but I want to invite you all to stop at this part of the story and stand in Thomas shoes. Thomas has been known for his faithlessness, but I dont think faithless is an appropriate word to describe him. Yes, Thomas doubted the testimonies of the other disciples, but it doesnt mean that he lacked faith. Indeed, doubt is not the opposite of faith, nor it is incompatible with faith. Doubt is an essential part of faith. Faith cannot exist without doubt. Thomas is one figure in the Bible that was honest about his doubt thus he become an example for our faith.

In her letters, which were published in a book titled, Come be My Light, Mother Theresa expressed her deep anguish in her spiritual life. She feared of losing her faith. She wrote in September 1979 to her spiritual director, Rev. Michael van der Peet, "Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear."

Earlier, in 1953, she wrote, "Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself -- for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead.... It has been like this more or less from the time I started 'the work." In 1956, in another letter, she used the words repulsedempty, no faith, no love, no zeal, no attraction, nothing. Yet she continued by asking, (P)ray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything." [2] When she wrote, My own soul remains in deep darkness and desolation, she continued by writing, I dont complainlet Him do with me whatever He wants.” [3] Her words remind me of Jesus own words when he was offered the chalice of suffering in the garden of Gethsemane, If its possible Lord, take this cup for me. Yet, not my will, but your will be done.” [4]

A Friar once reflected on these so-called Mother Theresa dark letters. He wrote:

 “One thing we know for sure is that Mother Teresa was never a fake or a liar. Her whole        life was as honest and true as it could be. Her entire being was to    do the will of God and, in fact, that is exactly what she did so wonderfully....

In the language of the spiritual life, Mother Teresa was experiencing the dark night of the senses and of the spirit ... The dark night is certainly not punishment given by God. Quite the opposite. It is a sign of spiritual growth and reflects the paradox of the gospel: To die is to live, to live is to die, less is   more and more is less....

Mother Teresa was not fake, nor did she lose her faith. In fact, her faith grew all the time while she was walking with the Lord, growing deeper in her union with him. However, her experience was of just the opposite. Real faith is believing in what we cannot see or feel. Faith is the strongest when there are no feelings and reassurances. All saints speak of similar experiences, whether they were religious or laity.” [5]

So, perhaps, doubt is a natural companion of faith. Perhaps, without doubt, we will never be more mature in our faith.

Scientific methodology is based on doubt. When an old scientific formula doesnt seem to fit new reality anymore, or when it doesnt provide consistent answer to new problems, doubt about the validity of the old formula would creep in the scientific community. Someone would come with a new hypothesis, but doubt, once again, would prevent this new hypothesis from immediately be accepted as the new formula. Rigorous tests are needed before the new hypothesis can become the new formula that replaces the old one. This process is repeated again and again throughout human history, resulting in the growth of our knowledge of the universe and the development of our technology.

Perhaps, just like in science, doubt will help us grow in our faith, making us more mature Christians. A spiritual giant, like Mother Theresa, is not those who never experiences doubt in his/her life. On the contrary, those with strong faith are usually those who have struggled, and still struggle, with their faith. Yet, despite their doubts, they are still faithful to the work that God has appointed them to do.

It is believed that Thomas went on to become a missionary in India, which could be reached within 40 days by boat from Egypt. Ancient writers, texts, liturgies, and hymns mentioned about Thomas activity in India to spread the Gospel.

It was believed that, while in India, Thomas baptised many Jews who had been there before him. He also founded seven churches in Malabar. One church in Kerala, St Thomas Christian church, traces its origin back to Thomas activity as a missionary in the area in the first century. The churchs original liturgy was in Aramaic, which was the language that Jesus and his disciples spoke. It was widely believed, amongst the ancient churches, that Thomas also died as a martyr in India.{C}{C}{C}{C}[6]

We dont know whether this tradition about Thomas work in India was true or not. It may simply have been a legend, but there may have been some truth in it. If it was true, that means this Thomas, who was initially skeptical about the testimonies about Jesus resurrection, had become the messenger of the Gospel in a distant land. I doubt he would ever become such a towering figure without his honest admission of his struggle with his faith because it was his doubt that led him to his encounter with the risen Christ himself; an encounter that completely transformed the man.

In 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, 41% of the respondents, who were religious, thought that it was ok to question our belief, while 30% were undecided. [7] Perhaps, this Easter season is an opportunity for us to tell people, outside of the church, that it is ok to doubt the Easter story; that we too doubt it every now and then; that the great Mother Theresa had doubt in her life; that the Apostles of the church, including Thomas, began their journey to become the spiritual Fathers of the church with doubt.

Doubt has indeed been part of the Christian church from its very inception. No one should ever feel that he or she is not good enough to join a Christian community only because she/he has doubt in his/her heart. The mark of a true Christian is not whether or not one has doubt in ones life; the mark of a true Christian is whether or not one continues to serve God and others in ones life even when one struggles with ones faith; the mark of a true Christian is whether or not one follows the example of Jesus who accepted his death on the cross, even when he cried in anguish, Eli, Eli, Lama Sabakhtani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [8]

Yes, even Jesus had doubt. Perhaps, when we are open and honest about our doubt, like Thomas, we too will encounter the Risen One and be transformed into a new existence with him.

Let us pray.

Gracious God, your love reaches us through doors bolted by fear and doubt; your life reaches us through wounds and scars. Help us to hear your words of peace and healing; fill our hearts with joy so that we too may confess you as our God. Amen.{C}{C}{C}{C}[9]

 

[1] From Would I Lie to You homepage on http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007r3n8 (accessed on 25/04/2014 at 09:35 AM)

[2] Paraphrased from an article, Letters Reveal Mother Teresa's Doubt about Faith, by Daniel Trotta on http://www.reuters.com /article/2007/08/24/us-teresa-letters-idUSN2435506020070824 (accessed on 25/04/2014 at 3:25 PM)

[3] From an article, Mother Teresa's Doubts Were Her Strength, on http://www.americancatholic.org/ messenger/dec2007/Editorial.asp (accessed on 25?04/2014 at 3:25 PM)

[4] John 22:42

[5] From an article, Catechism Quiz — How Do We React to Mother Teresa’s Doubts?, by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M. on http://www.americancatholic.org/e-news/FriarJack/fj091307.asp (accessed on 24/04/2014 at 03:43 PM)

[6] From St. Thomas Christian Churches, an article on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Saint_Thomas_Christian_churches (accessed on 25/04/2014 at 11:00 AM)

[7] From an article, Religion and Spirituality: Finding God Within, by Heather Dowling in the Revive Magazine (Issue 35 - April 2014)

[8] Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34

[9] Burt, Susan and Friends (Eds.), Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life -Lent Easter 2014, New Zealand: Wood Lake Publishing Inc. (2013), p. 122.