April 11, 2024 at 7:00 a.m.

The mercy we need

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

By Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Whatever Thomas was up to that evening we do not know. Like the person we know and love, who just doesn’t show up in church sometimes, he may have had something more important to do. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and maybe that Sunday evening — it was the first day of the week — Thomas had other commitments. Only thing is, that particular Sunday was somewhat unusual. It was the day that Jesus had risen.

Rumors, of course, were spreading, mostly from some of the women who had been to the tomb. Word had gotten around among other disciples, no doubt, and they were scared and skeptical. If Thomas had heard, as I think we can assume since strange stories, even misinformation circulate pretty quickly, he may have not wanted anything to do with it. Whatever his reasons, he was hung up with something or just wasn’t saying.

John’s Gospel gives us some hints of a Thomas not always in sync with the rest, perhaps even with Jesus himself. Like many of us who, at least at times, have “issues” with the Church. Earlier in that Gospel, remember, Thomas had questioned Jesus about what he was saying about going to the Father to prepare a place for them, and preparing them for a journey. He had just referred to a “way” that leads to where he was going. Somewhat impulsively, if not also cleverly, Thomas popped the question about where Jesus was headed. Without knowing where exactly, how could they know the way (Jn 14:5)?

Do we just dismiss the desire of an inquirer for some more details about the plan, to have some kind of roadmap, a cost estimate, and what kind of things to pack, depending on the route, the terrain and the weather. All practical questions. Thomas wanted to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Earlier in the same Gospel, a report had just come in about the death of Lazarus. Jesus had announced he was going “to wake him up,” and had to clarify that he knew Lazarus was dead. Thomas almost certainly knew it might be dangerous to be anywhere near Jerusalem, and yet he states boldly to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16). What does he mean by that? Is he expressing some doubt or cynicism about Lazarus really being dead? The words were not meant for Jesus to hear. Or was he saying more, like Jesus is going to a dangerous place where word is out that they are trying to kill him. Is this a latent profession of loyalty? Hard to say. 

At any rate, once Jesus is crucified and dead, it seems, Thomas wants no more of it. That, in fact, may be a reason he was not with the other ten (Judas had already disposed of himself) that evening. And indeed he missed out because Jesus showed up with a plan that would certainly have interested Thomas. He was announcing the mercy of universal access to the forgiveness of sins, the very outpouring of divine mercy (“… whose sins you shall forgive”).

Thomas, again being practical, knew people did not come back from the dead, especially a crucifixion. The Roman death machine was too good at that. He probably wasn’t buying any of the women’s stories either. And after hearing about Judas and the timidity of the other Apostles – they were, after all, huddled in that upper room for fear that they would be next – he may have wanted nothing more to do with them. Like many who feel they are “through with the Church” because of all its sins and failings, which have arguably not diminished since that first night of its existence, Thomas was just being true to himself, or how he understood himself at this point. It was an identity thing, something personal.

Maybe there were other issues in the life of Thomas that Jesus (The Way) had not yet addressed in “a” way he had hoped or expected. Whatever the reason, Thomas was wounded. He was doubting and he does what we all may be inclined to do when no one seems to understand or even care. He isolates, backs into a corner to nurse his wounds. Yes, Thomas is a man with wounds and scars, his alone to live with. Or so it seems he thought that night.

Next week, however, he comes back. And so does Jesus. Whatever or whoever got him to return to that upper room we do not know. Maybe he wanted to have it out with the rest for their naïveté about life, and perhaps their insensitivity toward his legitimate concerns. He wanted the truth out, once and for all. He was, at least, in possession of himself, his own identity, and they were not affirming him. Until Jesus showed up. This time, just for Thomas!

Thomas suddenly encounters “the Way” itself, in the personal presence of Jesus. Not even “the Church” is going to get in the way. Indeed, he will go on to be a part of that Church for sure, his mission reaching as far as India one day. Now, however, Thomas exposes his own wounds, his own brokenness and vulnerability, and is no longer looking into them as his only truth — his own doubts and scars — to define his identity. Instead, he crawls quite literally into the wounds in the body of Christ. Jesus invites him to. He plunges in and he is healed. This is the mercy that Thomas needed. It is the mercy we all need! And it was tailored to him, exactly where he needed the healing.

The lesson for us is as awesome and real as it was for Thomas. We are invited to confess our brokenness, our woundedness, our need to be made whole. We need to identify that wound, those scars, whether imposed on us, inherited (socially or genetically), or self-inflicted. It may not be our own sin at all, but its reality cannot be denied. At the same time, neither can they become our sole identity. We are more than anything we have done or that has happened to us. We are more than our wounds, more than our sins or anyone else’s.

Once Thomas can reveal his own wounds and go into the wounds of Jesus, he is healed. He finds his true identity. That this restores him to communion with the Apostles is not a lesson to be lost on us. Within the Church, there are many wounded. It is a society of sinners and the sinned against! Yet Jesus is found among us, if we keep our focus on him and not the sin. His wounds are visible, caused by sin and born for us so that we can see the wages of sin. Yet those wounds, which serve as a reminder, are born by the One who is risen. The same One, the Way that healed Thomas and invites us as well to discover ourselves, our real identity, in him. This is the mercy we seek and the mercy we need.


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