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Failing for Christ

April 26, 2014

The story of Thomas’ doubt has always troubled me (John 20). Thomas is singled out for criticism. He wasn’t there so when the other 10 apostles told him that Jesus was alive, he didn’t believe. He wanted proof. He wanted to see and touch for himself. Now I have always thought of this event as a test for Thomas. An occasion where Thomas failed Jesus – a bit like how Peter failed Jesus by denying him before the cock crowed. After all, following this incident Thomas has been known as “Doubting Thomas”.

 

But this year I realise that he was no worse than the rest of them. They were all huddled up in that upper room with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. They were hardly models of confident believers at least not before they saw Jesus for themselves, before they touched him, spoke with him and ate with him. Really, they had no better excuse than Thomas. After all, they had heard Jesus say that he had to die before he would return to them after 3 days. To help them he had showed them his power by healing the sick and raising at least three people from the dead. There was the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7.11-17), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8 and Mark 5) and Lazarus, of course (John 11). So unlike any of us, all the 11 remaining apostles had seen physical proof that the work of the Father in Jesus was stronger than death. If that wasn’t enough, they had already been told that Jesus had risen from the dead. The women who visited the tomb had told them that Jesus had risen, and they went and saw the empty tomb but even then they would not believe!

 

Poor Thomas was no better but certainly no worse than the others. So Jesus words to Thomas, “‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” was addressed to all of them just as much as it was to Thomas – all of us too.

 

I have always had a sense of affinity with St. Thomas partly built on a sense of relief that I didn’t have to be perfect to be a Christian. A sense of affinity strengthened by being ordained on the feast of St. Thomas in 1994. But now, I am even more encouraged. It wasn’t just Thomas it was all of them who doubted. All of the remaining 11 apostles needed proof and needed the Spirit to give them the confidence of their faith.

 

So I too need the Spirit because the Spirit is where I find the proof today that God is real and active. I feel the power of the Spirit in prayer and know beyond doubt that God’s promises are for real. I have not physically seen or touched the risen Jesus but I blessed because I do believe. I am blessed by the Spirit.

 

Now I have to use this blessing. I need to let the Spirit work in me to deepen my faith. That is what those apostles did. The Spirit came into them and they were never the same again. Tradition has it that their faith became so strong that they were each ready to die rather than turn away from Jesus. That is a huge change from the frightened men huddled behind locked doors. It is this transformation that led Peter and the others to march out into Jerusalem and tell everyone that they met that Jesus had risen from the dead (Acts 2). Suddenly, they weren’t afraid of telling the crowd that Jesus was the Messiah and that his rising from the dead was for the good of all. They had found their courage again.

 

I have the same Spirit in me. You have the same Spirit in you. It is time for us to find our courage, here in the place where we have been put but also as a Church, as the People of God. ‘But I’m not good enough’ – that’s what I want to say. So what? Even those special few who followed Jesus weren’t good enough. They all doubted, they all failed Jesus in some way or another. They failed and God used their weakness. I fail and the Spirit works. I will fail in the future but the Spirit in me will remain strong. The Spirit will make sure that God is glorified by my weakness. The same is true for for every follower of Jesus. You are weak and will fail. God still loves you and will give all that is needed for his will to be done.

 

This is a truth that George Herbert captured so well in his famous poem, “Love”:

 

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lack’d anything.

 

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’

Love said, ‘You shall be he.’

‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

I cannot look on Thee.’

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,

‘Who made the eyes but I?’

 

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.’

‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’

‘My dear, then I will serve.’

‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’

So I did sit and eat.

 

George Herbert was right. I, like those fallible apostles, have not just been forgiven: I am loved. Thomas the doubter, Peter the betrayer and all the others grew to understand that they were loved by God. They also discovered that that love was available to all, so they rushed out to tell people. They failed, God remained strong, God loved them, and loved them and loved them out of their failure and weakness. That is the apostolic example to all.

 

Even the apostles failed and doubted and cowered in fear – God loved them and through them changed the world… What will his love do in me? Or you?

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