CHRISTOPHANIC COURAGE TO CHANGE ONE'S MIND
The Church of Jesus Christ, to quote the Nicene Creed, “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” has no clear-cut, obligatory and unifying dates and ways to observe and celebrate the birth, death and resurrection of its founder but as faithful followers of Jesus, the Messiah we are commissioned to keep on praying for the unity, not necessarily an organic or visible amalgamation under one large ecumenical teepee. We celebrate the Eucharist or Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper as transubstantiation or impanation and a symbolic memorial; we sprinkle water on infants or dunk adults for baptism, some traditions choose to ordain only celibate men, others ordain married men and these days women as well; some have massive altars to celebrate the Last Supper of Jesus had with his disciples at the traditional Jewish Passover festival and teeny-weeny pulpits while others have overpowering titanic pulpits to preach the inerrant, infallible Word of God and diminutive communion tables etc. In fact, having had the opportunity to visit and worship in an assortment of Christian sanctuaries around the world, we are an enthralling breed of disciples of Jesus! In fact, St. Thomas day is observed on December 21st and on July 3rd in the church. But, astoundingly, most traditional Christians agree on one lectionary discipline, that is, we all want to reflect on the ‘Christophanic’ experience ( manifestation of Christ) of Apostle Thomas had with the Risen Jesus a week or so after the Resurrection recorded in the 20th chapter of the Gospel of St. John and highlight its practical implication in the life of Christians.
Thomas Troeger wrote a hymn in 1984 on Apostle Thomas:
Back in Kerala, traditionally the Apostle Thomas is described with the adjective, “aviswasi” meaning unbelieving Thomas but in the West the Sunday after is smugly referred to as ‘Doubting Thomas Sunday’. We assume doubt as something dreadful and risky and pessimistic. In fact, doubt is a fine, dynamic quality in one’s spiritual formation. Majority of Christians, who are not St. Thomas Christians, tend to conclude that Thomas was something less than a faithful disciple of Jesus because of his inquisitive restlessness. For example, when Jesus and his disciples were heading towards Jerusalem, Jesus confided to them about his inner battles prior to his last days on earth. And Thomas questioned Jesus: We don’t know where you are going? How can we know the way? Jesus reply was simple, direct and unequivocal: “ I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. As Mother Teresa of Kolkotha would shed light on these most thoughtful words for us: Jesus for us is the way to walk, the truth to proclaim and the life to live. And now in this post-resurrection season, we would reflect on his affirming final words on the Risen Christ, “My Lord and My God!”. Apostle Thomas was certainly the most theologically discerning among the disciples; therefore the most influential theologian in the first century Christian Church. Frederic Buechner in his book, Wishful Thinking writes:’ Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is no God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep….doubts are ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving”.
Skepticism (from its root meaning is to examine, to consider, to look about etc.) is the position or view that it is impossible to know anything with total or absolute certainty. It presupposes a common lack of enthusiasm to claim to know as it ‘really’ is, to accept anything on face value, without satisfactory substantial proof. About 500 years Christ, some thinkers in Greece known as Sophists under their leader Protagoras acclaimed that “man is the measure of all things”. As they distinguish illusion between hallucination in Indian Philosophy, the Sophists tried to distinguish between appearances and reality. Later this school has had well known followers and protagonists such as Rene Descartes, Jean-Paul Satre in France, David Hume in Scotland, Frederic Nietzsche and Immanuel Kant in Germany and George Santayana in the US.; they tried to state that belief is irrational! They believed that human is limited and therefore knowledge is incomplete and there was no proof for God. For the past two thousand years Christian have gathered together not necessarily to seek for proof but primarily to praise our creator God. People don’t always come out of church services as eager and energized believers for good work and service—sometimes they emerge as more set and settled in their old preconceptions and complacencies and depart for home with their inner prejudices ‘christened’ or reconfirmed.
During the pre-independence days of freedom struggles, Mahatma Gandhi once openly confessed that he changed his mind ahimsa (violence) as he chose not to harbor any resentment towards the oppressive Brits. Some of his followers questioned his integrity and he replied, “My knowledge about the issue was incomplete yesterday and I know much better today in order to change my mind!”. It was Easter evening and Jesus, newly raised from the dead, appears to his disciples that are hiding out until he smoke clears. And we read in the Gospel, “Now Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came”. When he got back in town, the other ten disciples told him what had happened while he was away. But Thomas said, “I don’t believe it, unless I see for myself, I will not believe it”. Remember, Thomas did not use the word “doubt”. The so-called ‘doubting Thomas’ is a fabrication. If we still want to use the figure of speech, make no mistake about it, there are searching, doubting, struggling Thomases always trying to find God for the first time, or the second time or the umpteenth time searching for the print of the nails in our hands as signs of the wounds we have suffered and the sacrifices we have made in following the crucified and risen Christ, those who have been sorely tested by life and who bled by tragedy, those who are on the fringe of faith…Thomases…in our family, in the next pew, Thomases all around us…even within us. As we struggle with our doubt, denial, and disbelief in the power of Jesus’ wounds, we are in good company. Life is so uncertain. At our Church ‘s Celtic dinner one man came and whispered to me, “This could be my last supper”, the very next day he rushed to Toronto in order to remove infected kidneys. Here today and gone tomorrow! Imagine the angst and despair of the loved ones and friends of those four young Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan yesterday.
How do we express our Easter message of hope and peace in the midst of chaos in our world? The things to which you and I dedicate ourselves are truly good, valuable and enduring? Are we not devoting a lifetime to empty and meaningless undertakings? Christians have become self-serving, self-centered, and selfish creatures that we are so fearful and uncertain about ourselves and our fate. Isn’t it our fear, despair and lack of faith that drive us to be so preoccupied with ourselves? Was despair a factor that made St. Paul ask the question: “Wretched man I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) I have a copy of the Gospel of Thomas in my library, which is not included in the canonical writings. When all the ten disciples were huddled together afraid on the evening of the first Easter, probably Thomas was out making plans for his long and treacherous voyage to the far-off southwest coast of India. The Apostle St. Thomas landed in Cranganore (now Kodungalloor) on the coast of Malabar in southern India in the year 52 A.D. He preached the Gospel among the Jewish settlers in and around Cochin, and then worked among the Hindus there. He established seven churches: Malankara (Cranganore), Palur (Chavakad), Parur, Gokamangalam, Niranam, Chayal (Nilakal), and Kalyan (Quilon). He died a martyr's death at the hands of the natives at Mylapore, in what is now the city of Chennai in Tamilnadu. The first Christians were called Nazarenes, or Mar Thoma (Saint Thomas) Christians. Today there are tens of thousands, if not millions, of St. Thomas Christians from Mylapra to Madagascar, from Vadaserikara to Vancouver, from Maramon to Melbourne, from Nagaland to New Mexico and from Singapore to Skokie engaged in the life and work of the Church.
Very much like the French Roman Catholic tradition of naming all boys with the middle name Joseph, in the St. Thomas tradition, all families name a son Thomas! Thomas looked very much like his master; therefore he was known as the Twin or t’oma (Aramaic ) or Didymos (Greek) of Jesus. Like the first frightened disciples locked themselves safe from the Jewish and Roman authorities, we are also so fearful of what the world might do to us that we lock ourselves into ourselves and become focused on our survival. For example, 70 years ago here in Sudbury, those brave trailblazing Christians committed themselves to building new places of worship in pristine wilderness of Northern Ontario but today we are too busy self-serving in our schemes of survival! Isn’t it a travesty tat when our cities are booming with new industries, diversified economy and increasing demographic growth, the once triumphalist Christendom is relegated to the margins of a secular society?
A legend perhaps, but I heard a beautiful story about the 16th century Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic St. Teresa of Jesus or better known as St. Teresa of Avila. One day Satan camouflaged as the Messiah appeared to her!! ; for a moment she thought it was a real , wonderful experience of the Risen Christ. She told the Devil to go for hike in her own way. The Devil soldiered on with the query: ‘How do you know that I am not the Risen Jesus?’ Her reply was: ‘You don’t have any wounds! Jesus showed his scars to Thomas; you don’t have scars!” Yes, the Risen Jesus has his ineffaceable marks of suffering, his wounds are experienced in His body even today, that’s why His Body, the Church has zillions of wounds! The body of Christ is a humiliated, wounded body. The Risen Jesus who appeared to the disciples was very different from the stunning body of a youthful Hollywood star!
When Jesus first entered the disciples presence, he wished them peace; one who has peace is complete, has all that is needed. He or she is full, complete. The peace of Christ has come, filled you and me up, changed our hearts forever. In the midst of chaos of our everyday life, you and I have the peace of mind and a sense of meaning. In Jesus our lives count for something. The anxiety, despair and chaos that still cloud our lives cannot overcome because “ in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us!” (Romans 8:37)
Prayer: Almighty and ever-living God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight, through him, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
|Email this Link to a Friend||Send Your Feedback|
LIGHT OF LIFE
PUBLISHED ON FIRST DAY OF EVERY MONTH