B: A LIFE WITHOUT FAITH IS A LIFE IN HELL
Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 150, John 20:19-31
April 6, 1997 by Tad Mitsui
No one can know absolutely everything. So we must act on trust, believing that people and things are where they are expected to be and do things they are expected to do. Otherwise, life will be impossible. Imagine a life where nobody and nothing is reliable. It is a description of a life in hell. If you must suspect everybody, your life will be full of fear. It is a life so difficult that you might as well be dead. Today”s Gospel tells a story of faith restored, hence life recovered. How did Jesus do it? Let us find out.
When you are gripped with paralysing fear, and lock yourself behind a door, no one can help you. When my daughter was not even two, one night she accidentally locked herself in the bathroom in a dark. She was absolutely paralysed by fear. She kept screaming so loud that she was not able to hear me. I was trying to tell her how to unlock the door. My voice behind the door might have been like a voice of a ghost for her. We had to bring in a locksmith to get her out. Fear was like ear plugs; she could not hear anything that might help her.
Fear and distrust shut off all your senses. The disciples were in that kind of a state on the day of Easter. Many of them saw Jesus alive again on that day. But they could not trust anyone outside to believe that. They were so fearful of other people. Those people welcomed Jesus and hailed him as a king one day, but within a couple of days, the same people changed completely and demanded his death on a cross. The disciples had no trust in their fellow citizens. So they locked themselves behind a door.
A society that distrusts others and refuses to believe in anybody or anything, is a society that does not function. Some cities are coming close to that state. I overheard my friend who was teaching in New York city, talking with his 14 years old son on the telephone. He told him to stay the night with his friend. He could not come to pick him up. It was already 4 in the afternoon and the subway was too dangerous. When people lose faith in other people and institutions, there is no sense of community and a city dies. Western society is in a spiritual crisis as the religious institutions are losing public support. We need spiritual life like we need water. When people don”t know how to get to a spring of clean water, they may end up drinking from a miserable puddle of dirty water. Could that also explain the recent incidents of suicides by cult members?
Another problem about doubt and fear is that once you are in that state of mind, any amount of medicine, psychology, or science can not help you. Doubt and fear are opposite of faith and trust. Faith and trust belong to the spiritual sphere. And no amount of scientific remedy can heal spiritual illness. It is no more inappropriate than trying to heal a broken heart with alcohol.
I suspect also that the disciples were crushed by guilt. Remember what they did at the time of crisis? They could have demonstrated their faith and their loyalty to the teacher whom they loved with some brave acts of heroism. On the contrary, one of them denied him three times out of fear any knowledge of Jesus. Most of them ran away from the scene of their teacher”s death. Because of those acts of cowardice and betrayal, their self-image was in tatters. The result was fear exacerbated by guilt. They had knowledge of the risen Christ but had no faith in the power of that knowledge. So they were immobilized by fear of others.
There was also an element of doubt that robbed them of the power of faith. Thomas had not seen the risen Jesus. So he did not believe what the other disciples were saying. His doubt was to be expected. After all, they were, you must confess, not very reliable friends. They abandoned their teacher at the time of crisis. Why should he believe preposterous things that unreliable people were saying? Once doubt has sunk into your mind, it is very difficult get rid of it. The mere sight of wounds on Jesus would not convince him. He wanted to touch them. It was not facts and sights that changed Thomas.
When the disciples were gripped by doubt, fear and guilt, and locked themselves in, what did bring life into them? What did Jesus do? Jesus came in through the locked door and wished them peace; showed them wounds to prove that it was indeed him; spoke about forgiveness, and breathed on them saying "receive the Holy Spirit." It was those gestures that touched the heart, that reached the depth of human reality on the gut level.
He walked through the locked door. Obviously he was in a different kind of body, though he was the same Jesus as the wounds proved. But what impressed the disciples must have been his forgiveness. He spoke to them as though they did not betray him. He spoke as though nothing happened in their relationship. This is a proof of incredible forgiveness. Their betrayal caused him so much suffering, and yet he came back to them. When doubt and fear were met with such amazing grace and love, they just melted away. No amount of argument, no mountain of facts changed their doubt and fear into faith. But forgiveness and love did.
Another interesting act of Jesus was his breathing spirit into the disciples. The word for spirit in the Bible is the same word for breath, air, and wind. And in the Bible breath, spirit, and life are intimately connected. Life is not complete without air and spirit. Breathing spirit into another person, like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, is such an intimate life giving act. When Jesus breathed spirit into the lives of his disciples, it was clear that his overwhelming love was infusing a true life force into their dispirited bodies. Thomas did not have to touch the wounds as he had demanded. When faith came back to him, he simply said, "My Lord, My God."
Life is not complete without two kinds of gifts from God. We can not live without the gifts of nature, like air. No can we live a full life without the gifts of the spirit like love, joy, mystery and wonder. Jesus gave both kinds of gifts to the disciples when he returned to them after his resurrection. And he offers them again to us in the miracle of Easter.