Thomas

Shame, Scars, and Resurrection Hope

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3–9
John 20:19–31

I have too many scars.

Some of the most prominent are actually from small scratches. One on my arm is from rubbing carelessly against a branch doing yard work over a decade ago, causing a small but inch-long scrape along my forearm. But my body develops what is called keloid tissue, so that what for others would certainly not have even left a mark becomes an evident reminder of my chronic klutziness – and my body’s tendency to embarrassingly proclaim my history, to tell tales about how I what I have done or had done to me.

As I reflected on these texts, I puzzle over this encounter with the risen Christ and the disciples. I have always thought Thomas gets a rather bum rap; who can blame him for thinking some collective psychosis has overtaken his friends? Hoping in a resurrection seems delusional; to give oneself to it exposes us to ridicule by others or seems to indulge in intellectual dishonesty.

Then I focused on the strange sequence before Thomas’ infamous interaction. Remarkably, the disciples do not recognize Jesus as himself – they do not respond with the delight appropriate to this astonishing appearance – until he shows them his wounds. It is not his face or his eyes that makes him recognizable or reveals his identity. Rather, it is the viewing of his wounds – that very aspect of his life story meant to render him ineffective and gut his witness to God’s peculiar power – that evokes joy in his friends. Read more

Why Grace Doesn’t Fit on a Bumpersticker

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Psalm 119:1-8
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Matthew 5:21 – 37

“Christians aren’t perfect – just forgiven.” So the bumper sticker proclaims the good news, the gospel in a nutshell to those shackled by guilt over the slightest failure. Or, better yet, consider how this quip responds to those who enjoy reminding rather sorry Christians, such as myself, how we fall short. I can’t count how many times my own hot-headedness and quick tongue get the better of me. How many of you, like me, have been a jerk to another – especially a family member who may not be so “into” the faith – and get the sarcastic response, “Oh, so that’s how Christians act, eh?” or “Boy, your hypocrisy is really inspiring me to follow Jesus!” And thus this short phrase challenges anyone – Christian or not – who doubts that the heart of our faith is about grace freely given.

And then we read the lectionary readings for today. Read more

Why I Need the Terrible Judgment of God

 

Proper 25: Year C

Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; Luke 18:9-14; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

I knew what I was supposed to say. I was supposed to say, “Sure. Of course I will meet to work out our difficulties, listen to his complaints.” But the words stuck in my throat. You see, I knew that I was more in the right than he. In truth, I couldn’t see how I had done anything worthy of this person’s mean and petty actions. A mutual friend was offering to mediate between us. In our phone conversation, she noted how the other party felt hurt, needed to be cared for, experienced abandonment, etc. The friend insisted that this other person had gifts to offer and had to be set free to do so. Internally, I balked. You gotta be kidding me, I thought to myself. I have been kicked around publicly and privately; I am not the one in the wrong here. I don’t want to care; I want them to acknowledge my pain, not attend to theirs. And to be honest, I don’t want to accept their offerings of talent or resources for the community, not until they act like a grown-up, own up to their faults, and stop hurting others.

When I am obviously in the wrong – for example, I blow a gasket in anger at my children or husband – I feel ashamed. Crippling shame presents its own unique challenge for being in communion with others. But while I profess forgiveness of enemies and want to participate in the ministry of reconciliation with those who have wronged me, in this case I slammed up against not my sense of shame but rather my sense of honest justice. I want to be seen as the one who has been mistreated; particularly if their violence toward me has been public, I crave judgment of the others’ actions. Read more

What Else is Money For?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 8:4-7
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

A friend of mine was a missionary for many years in various parts of Asia. One Sunday while on furlough she told a story about one particular country in which she had worked. The government had forbidden Christians from assembling; indeed, no citizens could have more than one other guest at their apartment at any time to preserve “order.” In defiance of political authorities, believers surreptitiously sought to get around the law; they were determined to meet together for fellowship, prayer, and worship.

Unfortunately, the local policeman saw the staggered comings and goings and figured out that they were gathering. At that point, my friend did what was socially expected in such circumstances: she paid the policeman a bribe. And as long as she kept paying, Christians kept gathering in this apartment for the sustenance they for which they longed and for which they risked severe punishment.

When my friend told this story in front of the congregation, she was a bit sheepish – even ashamed – that she had bowed to the dishonest system of payment and the black market economics common in much of the world. My friend Scott – trained by Jesuits with a PhD in philosophy (and the most likely of my Mennonite circle to be canonized if we ever decided to institute the practice) loudly and quickly retorted loudly before the entire congregation, “Ah, well, but what else is money for, really? Seems like a pretty good investment to me.” Read more