The Opposite of Faith

The Good News story from Lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Easter is the same every year and it is a story that even if you don’t know the details you know the nickname taken from it, Doubting Thomas, that has given dear Thomas an undeserved bad reputation these past 2000+ years.

So here’s a question for you: what is the opposite of faith?

Most folks, I think, would say “doubt”. But I’m going to suggest otherwise. Doubt is part of true faith because it leads us to ask questions and seek answers that in turn strengthens our faith.

The true opposite of faith is apathy, not caring one way or another about the things that Jesus does or teaches, not letting the joys of believing in Jesus the Messiah transform us.

It is evening on the the day that Jesus rose from death, and the disciples are in a locked room, all except for Thomas. Jesus miraculously appears, in the flesh, and the first thing he does is to offer them peace. These are the same disciples who had run away, hid, and even denied knowing him when he was arrested and killed, and yet Jesus comes to them in reconciliation and forgiveness.

And then he shows the disciples his wounds, further proof that he is our wounded messiah, one who has suffered for and with us so that in our times of suffering, we can know beyond a shadow of doubt that God is with us and knows our pain and bears us up on the strength of love.

When Thomas returns after Jesus has left them, they tell Thomas what has happened and he isn’t pleased. Thomas wants what they all received – to be with Jesus and he doesn’t think he can do that without Jesus being physically present.

He hasn’t had to believe without Jesus being physically present before this. This is new and different and Thomas needs a new way to experience Jesus. What Thomas wants, what he thinks he needs is to actually touch Jesus’ wounds to know they are real.

A full week later, a week in which I’m sure Thomas spent a lot of time pondering just what he missed and what could make up for it, Jesus comes to the disciples again in the exact same way – entering a secure room and offering peace. Regardless of their thoughts and conversations and demands of the past week, Jesus comes to them in reconciliation and forgiveness.

Jesus appears again with his wounds still visible and offers them to Thomas and Thomas doesn’t need to do the very thing he had insisted upon. Jesus has showed him a new Way.

Thomas experiences the peace and comfort of Jesus’ presence and all is well with his soul. Thomas received what he needed not what he thought he wanted.

If Jesus were to come to us today and wipe every effect of COVID19 from the earth, a lot of people would believe. Belief would be easy. But Jesus says, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

It’s much more difficult, it takes some serious soul work, to believe that throughout this COVID19 pandemic God is with us, giving us the strength and courage to show and share love in our suffering, to be grateful for what we do have, to be generous in our perceived scarcity, to know that the fruit of our faith isn’t an absence of conflict or tension or suffering but a deep sense of peace and joy and hope in the midst of our troubles because God is faithful and true.

We may want God to take it all away, but growth and faith happen when we receive what we truly need from God rather than demanding we get what we think we want.

Thomas’ doubt doesn’t prevent him from seeing Jesus, it doesn’t prevent him from sticking around and waiting on God. Thomas’ doubt makes his encounter with Jesus even more astonishing to us as we witness it. Without getting what he wants, he falls at the feet of Jesus in total belief. He lets go of his want and receives what he needs.

The fruit of our faith is hope and trust even when there are no visible signs and wonders. We have been saved from what we think we want, knowing that we will be given all that we need. Amen.

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