Sunday, 23 April 2017

Thomas the Cynic, 2nd Sunday of Easter



Jn 20:19-31
We just heard about the man known as a "doubting Thomas", a person and label so significant that the name and phrase still lives on even in our post-Christian society.
Now, I have a theory about St Thomas that I'd like to share with you. St Thomas is often referred to as the classic skeptic, but I reckon he was actually a cynic.
The difference between a skeptic and a cynic is this:
A skeptic refuses to believe in anything,
A cynic believes in something, namely, he believes in evil, he believes in the worst about everything. If you say it's a nice sunny day, he sees the clouds coming. If you say how nice someone is, he points out his failings.
A skeptic refuses to believe in God because he doubts everything.
The cynic refuses to believe in God because he has been overwhelmed with the thought of evil instead -and this means that St Thomas has a very particular and valuable lesson for us.

My reason for saying Thomas was a cynic is this:
When the others said they had seen the Risen Lord, he didn't say, "Show me his risen body", but, like a cynic, he points to evil:
He speaks of the wounds that killed our Lord, of the experience of suffering, of what has gone wrong.

Now, Thomas wasn't always cynical. Earlier in the Gospels we see him expressing bravery, in fact, uttering one of the bravest statements in the Gospels: When Jesus set out for Jerusalem where He faced certain death, Thomas bravely said to the other apostles, "let us also go, that we may die with him"(Jn 11:16).

But by the start of today's gospel passage, this brave disciple seems to have changed dramatically, he had become cynical, and refused to believe. What had happened in between?
The Cross.
The experience of the suffering of the Cross had shattered his faith.
And suffering can destroy our faith too. We can allow an experience of evil to so overwhelm us that we no longer believe in the existence of what is good

Even though suffering is a time when we need our faith the most, to remind us that we are united to our loving Lord on the Cross, of the happiness that awaits us in heaven, of the fact that we have a loving Father who watches over us, even if we cannot see exactly how.
Just when we need our faith the most, pain can lead us to doubt these basic truths.

(pause) How does our Lord respond to the cynic's doubts?
The Lord points directly to what is worst, what is evil, and says He has triumphed over it.
In response to Thomas's doubts, our Lord showed him His wounds, showed His triumph.
The same Jesus who hung before on the Cross, also appeared to show that He had faced and overcome suffering. Thus Jesus says, "In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world"(Jn 16:33).

This is what enables us to have faith even though we live in a world where there is suffering.
Not because we deny that suffering is real.
But because we see that God has suffered with us, and for us, and even more, that He has triumphed over it, and promises US a share in His victory, if we but put our faith and trust in Him.
That's why St. John says, "this is the victory over the world: our faith"(1 Jn 5:4).

Every religion or philosophy must try to deal with the problem of suffering, but none can do so as well as Christianity. The cross and suffering are unique to Christ.
(pause) When our faith is tested by suffering, as it easily can be, when we feel like giving in to cynicism, we would do well to recall the sight of our Lord showing His triumphant wounds, a display that gives faith in Him credibility even in a world of tribulation.

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