Today from the evangelist, John, we hear Jesus say to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” (John 20: 27b) In Luke’s Gospel the evangelist reports, “They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:37) Oh, how foolish we are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
(Cf. Luke 24:25)
Why were the disciples so terrified? Were they simply afraid of ghosts, or were they afraid of what the resurrection would mean for them if it were really true? Think about it. If Jesus really rose from the dead, and this most amazing thing that Jesus had told them would happen, had come to pass, then they would be compelled to, must believe all that Jesus taught.
Yes, and if the resurrection is true, they must not only believe what Jesus taught, but they must also live by Jesus’ radical teachings. Living as Jesus lived, would mean that they too would die with Jesus and therefore rise with him on the last day. To live as Jesus means that they must forgive others their transgressions, love their enemies, and sell all they have and give it to the poor. Really? Could anyone really live this way? It wouldn’t be practical. The amazing thing is that His disciples did just that, as we hear about today in the Acts of the Apostles. …and how did this work for them? Well, their numbers increased exponentially, there weren’t any needy persons among them, and it looked as though they would conquer the world.
Does this mean they lived happily ever after? No! They did not ‘live happily ever after.’ Not by the standards of the world. Their way of life would either win over those whom they encountered or raise their ire to the point of persecution and for many believers, this was the cause of their martyrdom. But, strangely, it seemed that the blood of the martyrs only served to water the seeds of faith, and their numbers grew. This continued until the end of the third century until the Christian Church was legitimized and co-oped by the temporal power of the Roman Empire. Ultimately the Christian religion was made the state religion. This caused the faith to spread even more rapidly throughout the entire Roman Empire but in a way less pure as those first-century believers. The Church became enmeshed in the pursuits of earthly structures and power, religion, and faith became two different things. Following the Dark Ages and the Renaissance came the Age of Enlightenment and the divorce between government, science, and faith. Today government seems to once again be the enemy of faith.
Where does this leave us today as “believers?” Do we believe all that Jesus taught? Will this belief go with us beyond the doors of the church this morning, or will our testimony of faith end with the recitation of the Nicene Creed? Perhaps we too are terrified with the call to live our faith that radically believes in the resurrection and all that it means for our way of life beyond the Church walls. Others have allowed the government to coop our religion for its purposes and some have traded our beliefs in exchange for a promise that government will keep us safe from persecution. Is this what Jesus taught or promised for our future? Hardly, remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
If we are truly concerned with the dwindling numbers in church attendance, the lack of community within, and harshness of society on the outside; perhaps we need to return to the beliefs and way of life found among those 1st Century disciples. But that would be a very radical change for most of us in how we live and where we pledge our allegiance. Jesus also said, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) What are we terrified of? And, Whom will we serve?