We believe in the unbelievable.
Yesterday a woman came up to me at the end of Mass and gave me three one dollar bills. When I responded with a quizzical look on my face, she told me it was a donation for the Holy Water bottles that we have up here on the altar. I told her she could just throw the money into the basket with the bottles, and she said that she wouldn’t risk leaving the money there. “Even in a church?!” I exclaimed with feigned shock. “Listen, Father, I’ve worked in churches for 10 years, and I’m no fool!”.
We both smiled at her cynicism, but when she left, I thought about other comments people had made to me here. When I installed our Christmas tree forest out on the plaza, many people volunteered their prediction that the trees would be stolen. “It’s New York, Father, don’t be so naïve!”, they said. Same thing when we put the ribbons out there—I was told that “mean” people would mess with them. Hey, I know it’s New York, and I was born here, so I’m not some kind of innocent kid. But I guess I simply don’t have that level of cynicism in my blood.
How about you? Let’s see, maybe I can throw you a hypothetical to test this out. If you walked out of the church at the end of Mass and there was a young guy—say around 24 or 25 years old—sitting on an old blanket on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign that read “I need $35 to get a ticket for the train to Connecticut”, would you believe his plea? Would you give him anything? A quarter? A dollar? 10 dollars? 35 dollars? If he got 35 dollars, do you think he would immediately go to Grand Central and get on a train?
I was a little surprised by the woman with the water bottle money, because I kind of expect guys to be more cynical than women, don’t you? You know in all the gospels, it was always the women who first believed in the resurrection of Jesus. The angels at the empty tomb spoke to grieving women—not men---and it was Mary Magdalene to whom Jesus first appeared. In today’s story, Thomas the doubter kind of epitomizes the disbelief and cynicism that real men are usually expected to exhibit. I wonder, is that why there are usually more women in our church than men? Hmmm.
How do we all get to be so skeptical, untrusting, disenchanted? When we are babies we are so vulnerable, naturally trusting, innocent, and it’s amazing how quickly children seem to learn to disbelieve even the things that their hearts reveal to be true.
I think it has something to do with love, or the lack thereof.
Thomas is my kind of guy. He was probably more of a Tom than a Thomas. Maybe a man’s man, a regular guy, probably a humble carpenter, and like most men in his world, he was not easily deceived. I like to think of him as a big guy, strong like bull, someone you’d like to have on your side in a fight. And somehow Jesus really got to him, the unbelievable love and goodness of Jesus broke down his natural caution, and he became a disciple, maybe the most loyal. When Jesus suggested that the disciples go with him to Jerusalem where they'd probably all get into trouble, Thomas was the courageous one, the first to say yes: "Let’s all go, and we’ll die with him!"
So imagine his disappointment when Jesus died. You wonder where he was when Jesus appeared the first time to the apostles in the upper room and said to them, "Peace be with you." My guess is that he was at some bar, drowning his sorrows, all his hopes and dreams down with the whiskey. And when the disciples burst into the bar room shouting over the sound of the ball game on the TV, telling him that they had seen the Lord, his reaction was not surprising---maybe a lot like yours when I asked you about the hypothetical guy on the sidewalk outside. “Sure, he’s going to Grand Central as soon as I give him the $35!...Yeah, yeah, well... I'll believe that when I see it.”
I suspect there are more than a few cynics in our little family here. I mean, how many of us—women or men—are really ready to believe in the unbelievable? How many of us would be willing to put our life on the line by declaring our belief in the unbelievable resurrection of Jesus? If a guy was pointing a gun at you right now, would you be willing to die for your belief in the unbelievable? I’m not so sure I would.
And maybe that’s why I can relate to Thomas. With all his doubts, Thomas was probably the first “Christian” to openly declare his difficulty believing the central doctrine of the infant Church. And yet the other disciples didn’t throw him out, they didn’t banish him from the club. He was there the next week because he wanted to believe in the unbelievable, his despair had not entirely broken him, and his brothers understood the struggle of belief. When Jesus appeared a second time to them, this time to specifically address Thomas--“Put your finger here...and…your hand…in my side”---Thomas was able to overcome his cynicism and make the greatest faith declaration of all: “My Lord and My God!”.
It takes a lot of love to believe in the unbelievable, you know. Like children again, you need to feel the love, you need to see the love that is all around you.
So maybe for those of us Thomas’ among us, maybe we all need to stir some deeper embers inside, some Easter embers of love. If we need inspiration, there's plenty in scripture, chock full of folks whose faith was love, whose belief was alive, who became like children again. There was old Abraham who left his family and his country following that love to God knows where. There was Sarah, laughing till tears came because she was pushing 91 when she was told she was going to have a baby. There was Noah, building his houseboat to ride out the world's greatest flood. And remember Moses, ferrying his people through the red sea as though he was leading them across the East River. The list goes on and on until it climaxes in Jesus, up there on that cross with not a word of reassurance from the Father that it was going to be resurrection at the end of it all. Faith coming out of love, that's the only way you'll ever really believe in anything, the way, in the end our friend Thomas came to believe in the Lordship of Jesus.
That love is still visible all around us today. Every day Jesus is appearing before us inviting us to believe it when we see it. Tomorrow when you get up in the morning, when you take your warm shower, eat your bagel with cream cheese, encounter your brothers and sisters on the 6 train, work with your colleagues at your office, text with your friends during lunch break, when you notice the squirrel scurrying across the park bench, stop as the first responders pass by, when you return the smile from the cashier at CVS, when you take a moment to read the sign of the 25 year old asking for $35 for a ticket to Connecticut--- try to see the love that surrounds all of it, the love that holds it together, that love that attempts to bring the light to it all, the love that ultimately redeems every every moment, every thing, every person, and especially the love that redeems you, my fellow Thomas’.
So my Easter brothers and sisters, what is it for you? Do you believe in the unbelievable? Do you believe that he really rose from the dead? Do you really believe that you will too? Are you ready to become a child again, to dare hope in the most wonderful of things?
And then, more importantly, how are you going to love enough to make the world rise from the dead? To have faith is to have love. Ours is a world of doubting Thomas’ in need of Christ's love. Hey, who else is there, but us?