[This week’s readings are posted below.]
One disadvantage to focusing on a short reading each week is that we can lose sight of the larger story as it unfolds. I am indebted this week to one of my mentors, Dr. Aaron Milavec, for pointing out that in this scene in the locked room, Jesus seemingly overlooks his having been abandoned by the Twelve. They, of course are too ashamed to bring it up. “But,” Milavec continues, “nothing has changed. Jesus recalls his mission and their mission. [Jn.20:21] The one and the other both override failure. He believes in them! And that is enough….”
Yet as we read the story as it continues in Acts, the disciples response to Jesus’ ascension is to “stand there looking up at the skies.” [Acts 1:11] Sixteenth-century painter Hans Suess von Kulmbach (The Ascension of Christ) provides a fitting—and you may find humorous—visual metaphor for the hazard posed also by Thomas’ persistent doubting [Jn.20:27] Thomas has missed the meeting. He is still stuck in his unbelief. Jesus challenges him, “Stop persisting in your doubting. Believe!” (One might be tempted to add, “Believe! –There’s work to be done!”)
“As our Abba God has sent me, so I am sending you” is a clear call to action—particularly with the disciples having been given the Holy Spirit to go forth with and within them. Belief is only a first step, not the ultimate arrival point.
Action without belief can be pointless, directionless. But belief without action is deadly, particularly for the church today. Note, however, that this is not a polarity. Belief is braided together with action. Both are essential to the task at hand. “…So I am sending you” means taking up the work of Jesus himself. And it is not just an individual calling. Now the community is to stand in the place of Jesus, continuing his work. (John 17 speaks eloquently of how we, like Jesus, are now no longer of the world, but sent into it, to serve the same continuing purpose.)
Our first reading today [Acts 4:32-37] tells of the new church sharing all resources in common, being of one mind and one heart. Some believers, for example, sell their property and give the proceeds to the whole body, so that the basic needs of all the believers are met. This is truly belief put into action!
19 On the evening of the first day of the week [the same day when Mary Magdalene had brought news of Jesus’ resurrection to the other deciples] the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Temple authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 He then showed them his hands and side, the marks of crucifixion. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw him.
21 Jesus said again, “Peace be with you! As our Abba God has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus–‘the twin’), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen Jesus!”
But he said to them, “Unless I put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand in his side wound, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the locked room again, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, examine my hands. Put your hand into my side. Don’t persist in your unbelief! Believe.”
28Thomas responded to him, “My Savior and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “You have become a believer because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written to help you believe[or continue to believe] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Only Begotten, so that by believing you may have life in his name.
32 All the believers were of one mind and one heart. None of them claimed that any of their possessions was their own; instead they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles continued to testify with great power to the resurrection of the Jesus Christ, and God’s grace was powerfully at work in them all. 34 No one among them was needy. From time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the proceeds, 35 and put the money at the apostles’ feet. It was then distributed to anyone who had need. 36 There was a certain Levite from Cyprus named Joseph–the apostles had given him the name Barnabas, meaning ‘encourager.’ 37 He sold a farm that he owned and made a donation, presenting the money to the apostles.