Speaking to the Soul: Touching faith

John 20:19-31

Lucky Thomas, he literally got hands-on proof to bolster his faith. We will have to wait a little longer for that awesome experience. Until that time, Jesus tells us we are blessed because we believe in what we do not see. But before we congratulate ourselves on a pious achievement, we should understand that our faith is entirely a gift from God. It is his grace infused in us, not a virtue generated by us. Our job is to cooperate with God’s grace… to nurture, protect and share it. That means our faith cannot be rationed, hoarded or hidden. Jesus did not go to the cross so that closet Christians could slink under the radar of an increasingly cynical, secular world.

This week let’s use the lesson of the upper room to probe the nature of faith… what it is… what it means to us… and what we should do with it. First let’s look at what faith isn’t. Faith was never meant to be an affirmation of some frail, static body of beliefs, incapable of surviving a collision with empirical evidence. Our faith is dynamic and vibrant. It is not the enemy of reason. It welcomes scientific revelations from Darwin to “The Big Bang.” As Jesuit anthropologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin explained: “Faith has need of the whole truth.” We welcome scientific breakthroughs as further proof of the endless wonders of creation and the endless glory of the Creator.

But we simply can’t reason our way to faith. It is not an intellectual exercise. Neither is it a scriptural abstraction for theologians to parse. Faith is a fire that burns within us, fueled by God’s grace. We must tend the fire or be left in the cold ashes of indifference. Constant fidelity is the ideal of faith. But few of us achieve it. We are human. We get tired. We get distracted. We are sinners. We serve our pride and our appetites. We stray from our faith. We may even deny it. But faith is not our creation. We did not will it into being, anymore than we willed ourselves into being.

Faith is our response to God. It is the vehicle he has created to give himself to us… to connect with us… to draw us to him. Jesus is ever ready to bring faith into the upper room of our neglect and rejection. But Christ will not coerce us into belief. We must truly work out our own salvation. We must have the will to believe. Ever since baptism, when Christ claimed us for his own, saving grace has lived in us waiting every day to be worked out.

“Out” is the operative word. No matter how humble or reserved our character, we were never meant to tip-toe through life keeping our faith a closely guarded secret. In word and deed our faith must be proclaimed. And not just on Easter, Christmas or the occasional Sunday… that’s not faith. That’s casual observance of tradition. True Christian faith is all-pervasive. It shapes our personality. It governs our conduct. In all things, we must put faith first.

The disciples came together in fear; they went out together in faith. Conviction replaced confusion. They drew strength from Jesus and shared it with each other. That is the social model of our faith community to this day. The light of faith does not burn uniformly in all of us, all the time. That is why we come together in need and in plenty. We support each other in prayer and fellowship. We instil and reinforce the habits of faith in our loved ones. We share our faith and we see it flower all around us. Faith builds on faith … it is the ultimate virtuous cycle.

As Paul teaches us: of “Faith, Hope and Charity”… Charity is the greatest of all. But it is “Faith” that comes first of all. This is not a random ranking. As St. Ignatius of Antioch explains: “Faith is the beginning and the end is love. God is the two of them brought into unity.”

So, thank you, Thomas. Your doubts made this lesson possible. You touched the risen Lord… and from that touch your new conviction affirms our own. Thank you, Father. You are the Alpha and Omega of our ever-evolving universe. You give us the grace to broaden and deepen our faith… to make it more resilient… to make it more responsive to your will. Thank you, Jesus. You are the Savior of the world. This Eastertime, our faith is risen once again in you. Alleluia.


 

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

 

Image: wikimedia commons, public domain

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4 Comments
  1. Michael Tompkins

    Thank you for this reminder of how faith works, and that I do not have to “have” faith; do not have to believe certain things, do not have to learn special things, all of which would lead me to despair. You have helped me greatly–thank you again

  2. Rod Gillis

    “So, thank you, Thomas. Your doubts made this lesson possible. You touched the risen Lord… and from that touch your new conviction affirms our own.”

    Ah, but did he? I’m doubtful. There is no indication in the text that Thomas actually followed up on the invitation to touch Jesus and engage in resurrection forensics. Indeed, a reading of John 20 in its entirety suggests the author is stressing the continuity of the risen Jesus with the crucified Jesus, with recognition of the same, while emphasizing that proof by touching or even “seeing” is misplaced. One possible reading of John 20, as a redaction of a legend, is that it is designed to discourage the very kind of thing that pious interpretation down through the ages has encouraged. The clue is in the punchline, i.e. blessing comes from believing without seeing.

    • Ann Fontaine

      My question too – did he or didn’t he touch Jesus? I lean towards Thomas being so overwhelmed by the offer that he needed no more proof.

  3. Rod Gillis

    It may be more about popular pious legends being incorporated into the an over arching gospel paradigm of appearance as spirit filled event.

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