Saturday, April 14, 2012

Thomas to Jesus: "My Lord and my God"

A couple of years ago I came across the following meditation of the Rt Rev'd Graeme Rutherford, retired Assistant Bishop of Newcastle (Australia), and Benedictine oblate. I have forgotten how it came my way, but I put it aside for future use, and share it with you today when at Mass we hear the Gospel reading in which doubting Thomas acclaims Jesus to be his Lord and his God. In fact, it makes me think of a petition from my favourite Prayers of the Faithful for use at the Easter Vigil: 

With the first disciples 
we have received the gift of peace 
from the risen Jesus. 
Let us pray for all whose pain and anguish 
cause them to doubt God’s love. 
May they have the courage 
to reach out in faith to this same Jesus, 
and know his peace and joy in their lives. 

Thomas' picture of God had to include scars in his hands and wounds in his rib-cage: ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe’. (John 20:25) 

The great Bible commentator and scholar, William Barclay, recounts a personal experience that powerfully affirms our ongoing need to examine our picture of God. The BBC had invited Barclay to do a series of talks on the subject of the miracles in the gospels. In his talks he stressed, as does St John, the sign or symbolic dimension of the miracles. Dr Barclay was later interviewed by the producer of the series and he asked how he had come to such a view: 

‘I told him the truth. I told him that some years ago our twenty-one year old daughter and the lad to whom she would some day have been married were both drowned in a yachting accident. I said that God did not stop that accident at sea, but he did still the storm in my own heart, so that somehow my wife and I came through that terrible time still on our own two feet’ 

When the interview was broadcast, letters poured in. Amongst them was an anonymous letter from Northern Ireland: 

‘Dear Dr Barclay. I know why God killed your daughter. It was to save her from being corrupted by your heresies’ 

Not having the writer’s address, Dr Barclay could not respond, however much he had wanted. In his autobiography he wrote: ‘If I had had that writer’s address I would have written back, not in anger - the inevitable blaze of anger was over in a flash, but in pity and I would have said to him, as John Wesley said to someone, “Your God is my devil”. The day my daughter was lost at sea there was sorrow in the heart of God’. 

The nail marks and wounds that Thomas sees mean that we have to think the unthinkable. God and crucifixion, God and suffering, God and humiliation, God and grief and pain, God and tragedy: these are not exclusive opposites. 

What is your picture of God like? Some people, for instance, have great difficulty in holding on to a picture of God as love. The reason may lie no deeper than ignorance of who God is as Jesus in the Bible has revealed God to be. They have never read a Gospel or studied a single book about it. Whereas others have a faulty picture of God that goes back to badly tangled family relationships that have left them unable to see any authority as good or loving. Some dysfunctional pictures of God come from the fact that we have been wrongly taught from an early age, and others from the fact that we have been wrongly treated. 

But whatever the cause, if we are to get our picture of God clearer, we are to look in the direction of Jesus. Gazing at the wounds of the risen Jesus, Thomas declares, ‘My Lord and my God’. Jesus, the New Testament writers tell us, ‘is the image of the invisible God’. In a famous remark, Michael Ramsay captured the meaning of the staggering claim of Thomas and the other New Testament writers:’God is Christlike and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all’.


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