During my childhood my father instilled in me a series of moral and ethical core values that are still part of who I am today. I think you will agree that core values are important to us in society and in our faith. Important because these core values build trust, promote honesty and integrity. The lesson my father taught me was that without values a person is unethical, morally deficient and selfish. At the time those core values he preached seemed to be life lessons but as I got older I realized that they were very important spiritual lessons. If we are going to be effective witnesses of what we believe we must be uncompromising about those things we hold as foundational truths – without core values we are not only missing out on the power of our faith but we will never be effective witnesses.
One central truth of our faith is God’s love for us is beyond anything we can imagine. The truth we know as absolute truth is God created us to be in an intimate personal relationship with him. He also created us to enter into that relationship or choose to ignore it or even reject it. The one thing we know is God desires a relationship with us not our blind obedience to some code of conduct for being Christian. We have a choice to choose God or seek other things to satisfy our deepest longings.
The choice we make will reveal our core values and reveal what we are truly seeking during our life on earth. One day each of us will have to make a decision to stand for God or deny those core beliefs in order to satisfy self. In fact God in his own words told us that very thing when he said “I call heaven and earth to witness…I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live.” (Deu. 30:19). Choosing God above all else is choosing life; disbelief in the promises of God is choosing death.
Everything we do in life to bring us contentment, joy, peace and fulfillment is meaningless without a deep intimate relationship with God. Adam and Eve learned that lesson when they decided to eat of the tree of knowledge. They believed that “their eyes would be opened” to new wonders if they ate of the tree of knowledge. Instead they found a new reality of the harshness of life without God. The prodigal son is another biblical story that drives home this point of seeking life apart from being in the presence of God. He believed his life would be better lived outside of the sphere of being part of the household of God. He eventually understood the fundamental truths of blessings, all we seek, are found in a relationship with God.
We are easily deceived into believing we can develop a relationship with God by an intellectual pursuit or some study program. The scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus day were perfect examples of this pursuit of knowledge of the scriptures and the law. Yet those same scribes and Pharisees missed the very gift of God, Jesus Christ, revealed in the scriptures.
Why is all this about core beliefs as an uncompromising truth important to us on this Divine Mercy Sunday and what has it to do with Thomas’s doubts? Mercy is at the core of God’s nature and mercy is unearned and never merited. What are we to do with the mercy God desires to lavish upon us? We have a choice to embrace it, ignore it or reject it; one thief on the cross with Jesus rejected mercy while the other embraced it.
Thomas finds himself in that position of accepting the full meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection by his believing the witness of others. We have made too big a deal of his doubts because it would seem that the image we have of Thomas is that his faith was lacking because he did not believe. We believe because of the testimony of others so Thomas certainly could have believed the disciples. Thomas’ disbelief was not any different from that of his brothers. Remember the passages from last week, the disciples also did not understand or believe the story the women told of Jesus rising. Yet when Jesus appears to them they suddenly begin to believe. No Thomas was not wrong or doubting, he was just human and it took an encounter with the risen Christ for him and his brothers to overcome their disbelief.
So we can learn from Thomas and ask God to give us some tangible sign so our faith can move to a faith that overcomes blind faith and moves us to an experience of Jesus as Lord and Savior. We can ask God to help us encounter the risen Christ and I am certain he will make sure we have just that kind of encounter. The scriptures we will hear in the next few weeks are full of stories of those kinds of encounters. Mary Magdala had an encounter with Christ that opened her eyes when Jesus calls her by name. The disciples on the road to Emmaus had an encounter which made their hearts burn within them and made them bold witnesses.
We have at the core of our faith a belief that Jesus came to reconcile us to the father. Here is the lesson we can learn from Thomas; we can like the disciples spend a lot of time with Christ but never quite get to a faith that energizes us to be witnesses. The disciples believed in Christ enough to follow him but it was not enough after his death to overcome their fears. They had to have an experience that instilled in them a core belief so strong that they were willing to die rather than deny their faith in Christ.
We are in need of our own encounter to make our belief so strong that we radiate with the joy of the Lord and are willing to stand alone rather than deny our belief in Jesus – our belief that he is Lord and God must be more than an intellectual truth it must be a lived truth. We can like them expect the “power from on high” to give us eyes that see, minds that understand and ears that hear the voice of God. We can learn from them that we need to have their kind of encounter with Christ that moves us beyond a journey with him to a powerful life altering experience of us touching Christ and him touching us.