Help My Unbelief
Second Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday). Fr Thomas Skeats preaches on his doubting namesake.
It is often said that society today is disfigured by a culture of suspicion and mistrust – distrust of our banks, of our political process, of our neighbour. Yet for society to function at all there are many things that at a deeper level we are simply required to accept on trust – the expertise of the doctor who prescribes us medicines, for example, or the ability of the airline pilot to get us safely to our destination. If we are to experience the benefits that the doctor or the pilot can bring then an attitude of openness and trust towards others is required on our part.
In these familiar everyday experiences we are of course able to accept the trustworthiness of others because there is usually some sort of verification possible upon which to ground our trust – the medicine makes us feel better, the plane brings us safely to our journey’s end. The world of religious faith involves a similar social dimension. The truth of God comes to us through the witness of others, through sharing in their knowledge and expertise. That is why it has been said that our relationship with God – our life of faith – demands at the same time a relationship with each other.
What seems striking in the story of the apostle Thomas is not his desire to see the Risen Christ. In this he requests nothing more than what had already been granted to the other disciples. It is rather his refusal to countenance the testimony of his companions, to trust the greater experience of his colleagues. And yet there is something constructive in his frankness. Thomas was not a man who was lacking in courage or commitment to his Lord. He had demonstrated his total readiness to die with Jesus (John 11:16). But when he did not understand, he questioned. He questioned in order that he might understand and believe. And once he understood, his surrender to the truth was total: ‘My Lord and my God’.
Thereafter, Thomas could begin to share in Christ’s own mission to make known the truth about God and the vocation of humanity. The witness of Thomas and his fellow disciples through their missionary activity would become for those who did not share their first-hand knowledge and experience of Christ the grounds upon which they could in trust enter upon their own journeys of faith, the truth of which faith could then be verified in their own lived experience.
And here we become aware of the great charge placed upon each and every professing Christian called to witness to the Gospel. The truth of our faith will only be glimpsed by those with whom we wish to share our faith if our lives in some way corroborate our beliefs, if the gifts that are offered to each of us when we turn to Christ in faith are used for the benefit of others, supporting and confirming them in their own journeys to encounter the Risen Christ in the scriptures and the sacraments of the Church.
Only then will the world see that the Holy Spirit, first breathed upon the twelve apostles by Christ after his Resurrection and later poured out more publicly at Pentecost, is truly at work in the world re-fashioning a new creation out of the old. Only then will the world recognise that by placing our trust in Christ and seeking his forgiveness we become a new humanity, reconciled and cleansed, united to the first-fruits of the new creation, the Risen Christ, Our Lord and God.