Doubting Thomas Indeed

 

It’s just not fair when a person’s whole life is summed up by one thing that they said or did. It’s particularly unfair when that one thing gets twisted around. So it is with “Doubting” Thomas.

His call to follow Jesus is not recorded in any specific, or interesting, way. We know that he was called Didymas, which means “the twin”, but we don’t know anything about the sibling.

The famous story, the one for which he got his nickname, goes like this, in short.

Jesus was resurrected, and Thomas wasn’t around to get the news. Apparently the rest of the gang was all there when Jesus came to visit. Note also that Jesus didn’t bother opening any doors to get into the room where they were locked away in hiding.  He was just suddenly there in the midst of them. That would prompt me to accept the resurrection.

As John tells the story, when Thomas returns, the disciples tell him, “We have seen The Master”.   Now pause for this thought…What would you have said? How might you have reacted if you knew that Jesus had been killed, and now your buddies tell you that they have seen Him? Here are some possibilities:

-Shut up.

-That’s not funny.

-Did he ask for me?

-Pull the other leg.

That’s impossible!

Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the marks, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.

Of course, we know what Thomas said, but all of the other suggestions make sense to me also. It seems to me that Thomas wanted to believe, but how could this be possible? Up until that point in history, almost everyone that had died had stayed dead.

To me, this is a story of hopeful hope, and Thomas had reason to believe that it just might be possible. Here is another story that John tells us, a little earlier in his Gospel.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.(This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

 

There is no mention here that Thomas doubted anything at all. Jesus said that he was going to go raise a guy from the dead. The only concern seemed to be where he was going to do it, because the Jews might try to stone Him…again. So what does Thomas have to say now?

C’mon fellas, let’s all go to Judea with Him, and we can all die! Not too much doubt in that statement is there?

Thomas is one of the few apostles where we get learn something about their personality. Those two examples seem to suggest a matter-of-fact guy and an all-out believer.

Regardless of the obvious belief in his master to raise the dead, and a loyalty far beyond my personal abilities and courage, the news may be just too good to be true. It is my view that John gives us this story, not to poke fun at Thomas, but as a way that all of the rest of us should be able to understand.

After Jesus conceded to Thomas wish to examine the wounds, He says:

“Is it because you have seen me that you have believed?” said Jesus. “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed!”

John is talking to all of the rest of us, because that’s what we have chosen to do. Believed without seeing.

If you have any doubts about the extent to which Thomas believed, here is a little bit more of his story.

He walked at least as far as India, spreading the word and building churches and believers. That’s over 3000 miles away. Some say that in the 30 plus years that he evangelized, he may have made it all the way to China. Do doubting people do this? I doubt it.

We know that he was serious enough about his work that he died a martyr’s death for it; a gruesome spearing. What would compel Thomas to give over his whole life building churches in the name of Jesus?

Here is a clue.When he recognizes the risen Lord, Thomas responds:  “My Lord and my God.”

I believe that this is the first time that Jesus was addressed in this way. Think of what they called Him before, and what he called himself. Son of Man, Master, Rabbi, Teacher.

Thomas was the first to get it. Some saw Jesus, raised from the dead. Thomas sees that his Master is God.

Without a doubt.

Advertisements

Life Abundant

“ I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10.

It is Saturday night, the Great Vigil of Easter. As the sun sets, the new fires are lit, and hope returns to the world. The curse of the tomb is gone, because the tomb is empty. Easter. He Lives. Resurrection.

The preacher, Fr. David Hyatt is an intellectual. He is warm and wise in ways that many intellectual types leave me cold.  They seem to know, but they don’t believe.  The passionless intelligentsia I call them; you know the type.

Fr. Hyatt is my friend, and I look forward to his sermons, because he teaches while challenging me to think it through for myself.

As he begins, I wonder how difficult it must be to develop a fresh thought for this Easter, as he has preached for many, many Easters. David talks about the challenge of believing, using Thomas’ doubts as the springboard. He talks about the promise of life of abundance.

I am thinking now, drawn in. This abundance is a promise that we have to participate in. We have to take the risk of claiming our own greatness. Muhammad Ali is introduced to the sermon as claiming his own greatness, before he had realized it. It was the accepting and claiming and believing that propelled him, Fr. Hyatt is telling us.

Well, I am no Muhammad Ali, you can ask anybody. Still, he has me wondering, what do I have, where is my abundance? I can make a mental note of some things as David speaks. I have abundance in family and friends. Abundantly good fortune in other things, but yet I am still so very far from accomplishing things that are of great importance to me. So far indeed; so far that I fight off the belief that I am a mere dreamer, and not the heavyweight champ.

That’s what I was thinking, as I shook my head to clear it, and  return to listening. This is good stuff, and I don’t want to miss what Fr. Hyatt says just because I am entangled in my own shortcomings.

A quote is read to us, the author is unknown to me.  It is prose, but the way that David reads it makes it poetry.

It follows, by Marianne Williamson.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Wow. Discovering this is as surprising to me as I imagine that Peter was surprised, as he leaned down to peak into an empty tomb.

This is too good not to share; it is my Easter surprise. I thank Marianne for writing it, and Fr. Hyatt for bringing it to me, and turning it  up to 10.

In a world capable of blight or abundance, I stand in the warmth and light of the risen Lord. Maybe even a wretch like me, or you, can manifest the glory of God that is within us.

I am thinking that maybe I can, if I shrug off the comfort of being a wretch, for the dangerous notion of having greatness in me, waiting to be claimed.

Oh yeah, and to be claimed for His glory, not mine. I aim to stop being ashamed of what I have not become.

Why I Hate Easter.

 

I used to say that I hate Easter all the time, but I am beginning to get over it.

My grandmother died on Easter. That was pretty bad, but the kind of thing that you can get past.

My mother died on Easter. That, for some time, has been impossible to get over.

Easter, the queen of Christian holidays, became overshadowed by the death of my mom. It wasn’t a surprise, she was sick. On Good Friday, appropriately enough, we gathered around for last rites, and goodbye. She wasn’t really with us, if you know what I mean.

Then, on Easter morning, just around sunrise, the phone awakened me. I knew what it was. Before I could get to the phone, I heard my dad’s voice on the answering machine telling me to give him a call. His voice was shaky. His voice was never shaky. I know that I called him back and had him tell me the news, although I can’t really recall it.

What I do recall, is losing my mind for a few moments. Here is what I said, to everyone and no one.

“Oh this is great….they got to the tomb where Jesus was, and Jesus wasn’t there. You knew who was there? My mother!” Odd, I know. Understand that it was said loudly, angrily. I lost a bit of myself that day, and it is taking a long time to get it all back. I am aware that I have been holding onto the bitterness, as a foolish way of keeping her present with me.

I don’t think of the date when I remember the day she died. She died on Easter.

Some years later, I lost my dad. I know the date for this, March 31. The day of his memorial service was the anniversary date of my mom’s death, it was not on Easter.

Today, I am thinking forward about their passing; Easter is right around the corner.

That’s when I discovered how “special” this year will be. March 31 is Easter. The day I lost them both. The day my three brothers and three sisters lost them both, and gave up a little too much of the glue that held us together. I am ashamed of my part in this; we were raised to be there for each other.

 I am bracing myself for another sad Easter Sunday. Double barreled. Both Mom and dad.

Something else is happening though, and I can feel it. As I begin to try to brace myself for a dose of pending desperation, I am aware that I need help…and I can feel hope slipping in, to the extent that I allow it.

Long ago, they referred to the early Christians as “The Easter People”. The empty tomb is the thing that defines Christians. The resurrection of Jesus; which for us is the hope of life eternal.

Perhaps it is the passage of time that is helping. More likely it is the fact that I am reaching out for help, to the only source that can provide it. I find that I cannot hold onto the anger, and sense of loss, as the hope trickles in. It’s like there is only so much room for feelings, and I am letting the good force the bad out.

On Good Friday, at the foot of the cross, they must have all felt the way that I have for so long. Lost, angry orphaned. But then…Easter! He is not dead, He is risen.

And so are they, mom and dad; and on this Easter I will imagine them together in a special way.

This hopeful promise has always been there for me, and I turned my back to it.

This year, I am going to focus on thanks. Thanks to my parents and thanks to the risen Lord that gives me hope.

As I finish these words, my thoughts go to the words of one of my mothers favorite hymns. It’s called O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,

For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

Thank you.

Of Promises, Foolish and Otherwise.

Apparently, Jephthah was something of a badass.

He had a rough start in life, what with his mom being a whore and all. That kind of thing often comes up in the village. Cruel stuff, the kind of stuff that can harden a person through shame. Even worse is when your dad’s other kids kick you out of the family. It’s not that surprising that this kind of start can lead to a life of crime.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the Israelites are being invaded by some Ammonites. The Israelites and the Ammonites were long time enemies, the Israelites calling particular attention to them as someone that they shouldn’t be coupling with. The Mishnah (oral Torah) even talks about excluding the Ammonite men entirely.

The Israelite s had plenty of their own problems though. That old problem that seemed to keep cropping up; some of their people were worshiping false gods. That was why, they reasoned, they were getting beat up by the Ammonites. This was particularly in the region of Gilead, which included two of the Israelite tribes.

They needed a warrior to lead them, and the person willing to do so could become their leader. So, Jephthah, the baddest dude around, was a candidate. It doesn’t sound like he was all bad, because he recognized that he would need God on his side. This is from Judges, chapter 11:

And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering.”

I have made these kind of foolish promises myself…If you will do this for me Lord, then I will do that. I have also failed to hold up my end.

I am not significant enough to ask God to help me in battle; I have also not gone so far as to offer a human sacrifice.

The contemporaries of Jephthah knew that this was a no-no. The story of Isaac seemed to settle it. Why would Jephthah offer it? I can only guess that it was a big offer to match his big request.

How wrong was Jephthah? At this point in the story…I’m not sure. Others have made promises like this. Danny Thomas has done wonders for thousands of sick kids, making good on his promise to God to do so, if God would help him out.

Back to Jephthah and the boys…off to battle they go, and the Israelites, led by Jephthah, are victors.

What happens next makes me believe that this son of a harlot, family outcast and former head of a group of bandits had a true sense of duty to his Lord, and to his word. Maybe misguided, but true.

Here is the next part of the story:

 [34] Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and behold his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances; she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.[35] And when he saw her, he rent his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me; for I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.”

His daughter, apparently in celebration of the victory and homecoming, comes out the door to greet her dad. For this, she has to die, although she doesn’t know it just yet. Her father had said that he cannot take back his vow, even if she is his only child, and the end of his bloodline.

I will freely admit that my next move would have been to take back the vow and take my chances. I am certain that much whining and pleading would have been involved.

Some scholarship argues that he didn’t really kill her, but the text seems pretty clear to me. Also, I am guessing that Jephthah was familiar with the words in Deuteronomy that forbid child sacrifice.

The sweet daughter also accepts the vow, and rather than asking for mercy, she just asks for a little time.I think that this may well be the supreme “Between a rock and a hard place” story.

The author of Judges seems to want me to see the foolishness of making a rash vow, and I do. But Jephthah and me are not the only two people to make rash vows.

Jephthah gave his word to God and kept it and I am guessing that he was wrong to do so. Can breaking your word to God ever be the right thing? Does that mean that I was correct when I didn’t keep my vow? I am certain that I was wrong. I can feel it, regardless of the juicy rationalizations that I suggest.

If both things are wrong, then I come to this conclusion. Don’t barter with God. He is not a game show host. We shame ourselves by thinking that we can offer a sweet enough deal to get what we want. We belittle His magnificence.

The purity of the asking makes the difference between Thee and He apparent. By taking our requests to God, we are saying that we need something that we cannot provide for ourselves, and we know that He can, if He will. We are recognizing that the Creator of the Universe certainly has the ability to do anything that I would want him to do. No job is too large. And even though it’s OK for me to make any request, I also have to be willing to settle for the answers “No” or “Not Now”. When the answer is Yes, I am called to further gratitude and obedience.

There is no other payment due. It was always so; from the beginning, and to the time of Jephthah. And just to make it absolutely clear, for ever ever and ever, that no payment is due for God’s grace; just consider Calvary.

The Illusion of Contemplation

 

I wish that I could forever remember all that I have ever learned. If so, it would bring me a sweet economy of time whereby I wouldn’t have to constantly re-learn or re-discover things. I’m not talking about small things, memory items, like phone numbers or quotations. I mean big things.
I need to remember that the time I spend being contemplative is useful to me, and to me alone. And of what importance am I? I mean really now, what good is discovering something if you don’t do anything with it except to contemplate it even further.

I am in no way minimizing the importance of tending to my own salvation, and to be constantly connected with the author of it.

In my contemplative times, regardless of the amount of distraction I need to fight off; and regardless of the depth of it, a singular message is always present. Sometimes it screams, sometimes it whispers, sometimes it haunts; but it is always there. I am called to serve.
What varies is whom, or how, and by what means, I serve. To serve is the core.

I am no leader of men, I am not called to be the top man, the person in charge. I have always known that I am to serve a master. Perhaps that is why the difference between me and God is so easy for me to accept. I know what I am not. In spades.

Why can’t I be the top man? Simply because I get no joy from it. My happiness, and fulfillment come from understanding the message and direction from Number One, and helping to fulfill that vision. Along with that, I know that my support will not come from praise, but by serving. Obedience, if you will.

This does not make me weak; whom I serve is incredibly important. It has to be someone with whom I can jump in totally, even if the “jumping in” contains the hard work of questioning, arguing and understanding until I know what to believe.

Through contemplation, I can discern. I wrestle with myself and God. I figure out, I understand; better yet, I comprehend. All this, until there is clarity of purpose. I can always sense the clarity because with it comes energy to move forward.

Today I am remembering, and re-discovering that through contemplation, I can get to work, full with the knowledge that there is a path and purpose. I will lead a little, and be lead even more.

I pray to know what I am called to do. That is divine.

Then I’ve got to get up off my butt and get to work doing it. That is human.

In A Tongue Not Understanded By The People

John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer shared a common viewpoint.

There were others as well, Erasmus and Martin Luther come to mind. As I consider the viewpoint, with gratitude, of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Cranmer, I have a hunch that they all shared the same question.
“Why won’t they let us read the Bible?”
“They” is the Roman Church. Or the primitive Church if you prefer. “Us” is…anyone that cannot read Latin. Interesting…
First off, we have to recognize that this was not a problem for The Three. They were all scholars, and so certainly they could read the Bible in Latin. It is said that Tyndale could speak in virtually every language. Most likely the problem for them personally was that the Bible had been rewritten in parts, for the benefit of the Church. The benefit was to gain power over the people, and it was power that was used in the everyday life of the Christians in Europe. Keep in mind that church attendance was mandatory in those dark ages.
That was what was at the heart of it all. The Bible was “wrong” and so the work was to correct it, and  to correct it by going back to previous versions.

The Bible has always, and please forgive this word for the lack of a better one, “suffered” from the personal mixed in with the divine. When we read “And God spoke to me these words,” we believe that this is the way that the profits understood it. We also accept that some parts of the Bible are inspirational stories that are borne from a tradition of trying to explain how we got here. Others, like Job, help us to deal with life questions of ethics and morality. Some of it is history, which is always told as fact coupled with experience, and others as seemingly direct quotes from the mouth of Jesus, which vary only slightly from one Gospel writer to another.
It has become my position that I cannot know precisely what was said, but that I can clearly get the point.
And that is the point, the writer, inspired as he was, wanted me to get “the point”.

When the reformers, or protesters, understood that “the point” was rewritten toward the power of the Church, they wanted to fix it back. Still, they wanted to make their own point. In a translation by Tyndale where we often hear “Upon this rock I will build my Church,” he says “Upon this rock I will build my congregation”. Consider that this is a quote from Jesus. There is no Hebrew word for church.

Without belaboring my own point of view, it seems to me that God speaks to us in various ways. For some, God inspires them to communicate His words, and does that though the human vessel that he created, and has chosen to use. The vessel is human, it is not pure, and it has experience.
But for others, these inspired words are supplanted by words that fit their own particular agenda.

That is what Wycliffe, Tyndale and Cranmer learned. By examining earlier documents, the words had been changed. And who would know? The Church held the Bible tightly against their chest, in a language that people didn’t understand.
The Mass also was in a language that they didn’t understand. I feel fairly certain that if I went to church in Germany next week, it might find it moving in some way, but I couldn’t understand much.
For The Three, they posed it as an obvious thing to do. So, they went about the work of translating the Bible into English, and using trusted earlier manuscripts.

The Church’s reaction  was immediate anger. The Three were chased, and some arrested. They were named heretics. Since Wycliffe had the bad manners to die from a stroke before the church could finish him off, they dug up his body, burned it, and scattered the ashes. Tyndale was imprisoned for 500 days before he was choked to death while he was tied to the stake. Then they burned his body. Cranmer was also burned alive, after going back on his promise to recant.
These were not the only martyrs. Anyone caught with a copy of the Bible in English was burned as a heretic.

These were dark days for the church indeed.

Today the Bible appears in nearly four hundred languages, each so that these timeless and inspired words can be read, and understood, by all who wish it.

The transition from Latin to English was not entirely smooth. The first attempts to translate word for word read like an early primer. It was clunky. Tyndale, although true enough to the original words, adds simplicity and beautiful poetry. Some of the phrases that he added are quite well known to us. Here are a few:

  • lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
  • knock and it shall be opened unto you
  • twinkling of an eye
  • a moment in time
  • seek and you shall find
  • ask and it shall be given you
  • judge not that you not be judged
  • let there be light
  • the powers that be
  • my brother’s keeper
  • the salt of the earth
  • it came to pass
  • gave up the ghost
  • the signs of the times
  • the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
  • fight the good fight


Today, there are over fifty versions, or, more accurately, translations of the Bible in English. They don’t vary a great deal. There seems to have been great care taken to use the ancient manuscripts that are trusted, and translated so that we “get the point.”

“The point,” is the one that God chooses to make,to the person that he inspired; not the point of the translator.

Sad indeed is the knowledge that at core of nearly every war, there is some difference in faith, and how we have chosen to believe in God.

Far too many people were murdered in order that the worlds greatest book could come to me, in simple and beautiful verse.. Sad indeed is the fact that the murderers were the people of the Church.

It seems to me that Wycliffe, Tyndale and Cranmer read it, understood” the point”, and were inspired to correct the human indiscretions, and to translate it into my language, for me. Brave stuff.

Thank you.

The Teachers Teacher

If you know Hillel…

If you know Aristotle, you know Plato. If you know Thomas Jefferson, you know John Locke.

How do you know them? Because Plato and John Locke were the teachers, you might even call them Masters. When you read the words of the student, you can hear the masters voice.

As I often do, I was wondering about things. I began to wonder…who was Jesus teacher? When we read about Jesus, he is referred to,and thought of as, the teacher. They called him Master, and Rabbi.

Now before you criticize me for not giving all of the credit for what Jesus thought and said to his Father, and to divine inspiration, hold on a second. I am referring to that human side, the one that was “famished” when he fasted in the desert. The one that I believe was hungry to learn.

If you know Jesus, you know Hillel.

Often, too often in my view, we disregard that Jesus was a Jew, raised as a Jew, by Jews and with Jews. He was never a Christian, always a Jew.

I don’t believe that there is any certain evidence of Jesus being a student of Hillel. In fact, his death is recorded as being in the year 10, which would make Jesus an unlikely student. However, Hillel had established what was called the House of Hillel.  It was an Academy that outlived the founder.
At that time there were two dominant traditions. There was the House of Shammai, which was rigid and conservative in it’s teachings, focusing on strict adherence to religious law. The House of Hillel was far more liberal, emphasizing openheartedness to all; including women. While the Shammai school were about the law, Hillel was about philosophy.
We know that Hillel lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod and the Roman Emperor Augustus. He was a constant student, even at the time of being viewed as the premier sage and scholar in Jerusalem. It is said that he spent half of the day cutting wood, to earn enough so that he could study the other half.
We know that Jesus was inclined more to peace, and to understanding others than he was drawn to the strict following of the law. In fact, it was his dismissal of the law for greater good that often got him in trouble.

Consider some of these parallels:

  • Hillel said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.”
  • Jesus said: “Do unto to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

 

  • Hillel said: “Pass not judgment upon thy neighbor until thou hast put thyself in his place.”
  • Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37)

 

  • Hillel said: “Whoever would make a name loses the name… whoever makes use of the crown perishes.”
  • Jesus said: Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 32:33)

These are  considered to be the most famous words of Hillel:If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Like any worthwhile philosopher, he asks the questions, the ones that lead us to the introspective answers. Jesus was always asking also. His words to us are loaded with question marks.Once, when the two rival leaders stood together, they were asked if they could sum up the Torah while standing on one foot. In other words, were they capable of brevity. Shammai got mad and left, Hillel said:”That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation. Now go and learn.”

I can see why Jesus would have been drawn to such thinking. I am, and I am grateful that he was. The Jews were the first culture to believe and teach this revolutionary thought about their relationship with their God. Most cultures spent all of their time trying to do things for their God, so that he would have favor on them.This Yahweh God was saying that he would find favor with his people, if they would only be kind to each other. This is how you get a quirky commandment, unknown to any other religion.

Love one another, as I have loved you.