Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:42-47 / Ps 118 / 1Pt 1:3-9 / Jn 20:19-31
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.1 Peter 1:7
It is interesting how the Word of God can speak to everyone in times when we need it most. Going on YouTube or various replays of Masses, the homilies of priests and bishops the past month or so have always to some degree addressed the pandemic. The Word of God truly brings us the comfort and inspiration needed during these times.
The Lectionary Readings today to be upfront, speaks about believing – the attitude we should have as believers in the resurrected Lord. For some who hear the Gospel of Doubting Thomas which is read every year A, B and C on this Sunday, it is easy to laugh at the disciples for being scaredy cats, and Thomas for doubting our resurrected Lord. “It’s so simple!” some may say. However, I hope we will have a different perspective this year when we read the Gospel among the first and second readings, and Psalm 118 in light of these times.
While this Gospel is read each year, we might just listen to it as if going through a script: disciples behind locked doors, Jesus appear saying, “Peace be with you”, Thomas not there and when he hears Jesus appearing, he doesn’t believe it. A week later, again, the disciples are gathered but this time with Thomas, Jesus tells Thomas to touch his wounds – Thomas believes, “My Lord, My God!” and Jesus closes saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” (Jn 20:29) end of story.
Yet, I don’t think this Gospel is that simple, especially in light of what is happening throughout the world now. It is important to know the state of the disciples in this case – they were scared. Some scaredy cats, lock themselves up in a room – but why? The Gospel clearly states, “for fear of the Jews” (20:19). Imagine: your Master whom you followed for three years was betrayed by one of your colleagues on that Thursday night after eating the Passover meal. Your Master is then tried by the secular authorities, brutally flogged, abandoned, cruelly executed by means of crucifixion – the worst form of death at that time… and the next person on the cross could be you for following this supposedly blasphemous man named Jesus of Nazareth. That is what I think the disciples would have thought at the time. In other words, they were shrouded in a sense of fear, a dark future.
Jesus comes into the locked room and says, “Peace be with you,” (20:19b) – something the disciples need at that point. Thomas is not there, so he does not believe. You can chuckle at him, but I think his doubt is something very natural. Inside, you may be upset – your life turned upside down. Now you’re saying our Master is risen from the dead?
I think the attitude of the disciples including Thomas prior to their encounter with the risen Lord is something a lot of people are going through today in light of this pandemic. As death tolls continue to rise, as economies crumble, as the day-to-day life that we know it might not return anytime soon, with uncertainty, we become shrouded in fear like the disciples. In that process, we become doubtful like Thomas, “Is the Lord indeed risen?”
Sometimes, we might think that we have strong faith. We go to church every week, even more rigourously during Holy Week perhaps, say prayers or even the Liturgy of the Hours. We go to Catechism classes or at least read the Catechism and the Bible and tada – we call that strong faith. However, there is no surprise to me if these times have provided some sort of “trials”. However, Peter says clearly in today’s second reading that in the midst of the trials brings about the “genuineness of your faith […] may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet 1:7) The Church is not an institution confined in a building we call a church, but rather, it is made up of what Peter goes on later in that same epistle, as “living stones.” (1 Pet 2:5)
While public Masses have been cancelled, the Sacraments no longer publicly administered throughout the world, when the secular world seemingly thinks that the Church is dead, it is not. Rather, these days have provided the world with a different facet of the Church – a Church of mission.
The first reading really speaks to what it means to be believers in our Lord, Jesus Christ. While the first part of the excerpt from the Acts of the Apostles today seemingly speaks of the Liturgical life of the early Church through the celebration of Mass communally, the early Christians did not forget to, “sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:45) In other words, the Church from the earliest days not only celebrated the liturgy, but also lived out the law of law through concrete actions.
So are we not imitating the Christians of the early Church in this time in history today? In the midst of death tolls, or number of COVID-19 cases rising, I have seen many news segments here and there with people donating medical supplies, groups of people showing their thanks to healthcare workers, front-line workers giving up of themselves for the good of society, the clergy not only celebrating Mass and praying for the faithful privately but anointing the sick, offering counseling, support, and some people simply doing their part by staying home solely out of charity for neighbour. While I am not underestimating the ever need liturgical life of the Church, the point I am trying to get across here is that even when the common visible elements of the Church are not present during these days inside church buildings, Catholics have been given the chance to live their faith in communal, generous ways like the Christians of the early Church.
While a dark cloud may continue to hover on this world during this time in history, the Church ever stands firm in its mission, in faith in our resurrected Lord. Let us not despair, but continue living out the law of charity towards our brothers and sisters – that is how we live as believers of the resurrection in times of trial, therefore, making the glory of Christ visible in this world.