They devoted themselves to the apostles" teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Let the sons of Israel say:
'His love has no end.'
Let the sons of Aaron say:
'His love has no end.'
Let those who fear the Lord say:
'His love has no end.' (R./)
I was thrust, thrust down
and falling but the Lord was my helper.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he was my saviour.
There are shouts of joy and victory
in the tents of the just. (R./)
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the corner stone.
This is the work of the Lord,
a marvel in our eyes.
This day was made by the Lord;
we rejoice and are glad. (R./)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "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."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The expression "Doubting Thomas" comes from this story. We see how Thomas, one of Jesus's inner circle, was slow to believe in the resurection. He wanted concrete evidence before he was prepared to believe that the risen Jesus had appeared to his fellow apostles. It's a meeting that offers solace to those of us who never stop doubting. We also notice how the other disciples were so nervous that they had locked the room where they had gathered. All kinds of fear and doubt can often bedevil our lives. And yet there are times when doubting and fearing make sense. People who are always certain make me nervous. Self-confidence has its place but it can also be a superficial mechanism for hiding a multitude.
There's a place for a healthy scepticism in our lives. Patrick Kavanagh captures the harm that a "know-all" environment can cause. In his poem Advent he begins: "We have tested and tasted too much, /Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder." And later in that verse he talks of "The knowledge we stole but could not use." Certainty about anything in the material world requires an element of scepticism, a spoonful of care. So what happens when we begin to try to talk about God, the God of the incarnation, the God of the resurrection? What at all have we to say, what can we say, indeed, what dare we say about God?
We often hear people who say they do not believe in God admit that they envy those who do. They go on to say they would like to have the certainty of their believing friends or that steadfast faith that their parents had. On the other hand we meet people who have no doubt whatsoever about God, resurrection and eternal life. But I think that for most of us ordinary mortals there are always moments of doubt during our spiritual journey. Thomas's doubting gives me great comfort, hope too and also helps me get some understanding of God's mercy and kindness. The disciples were also afraid, so much so that they kept the doors closed.
This is the perfect reading for those of us who are inclined to doubt the existence of God and are forever suspect of any and all forms of brainwashing. Australian Jesuit priest Richard Leonard in an article in the Tablet quoted the early church father Irenaeus: "The glory of God is humanity fully alive." The power of Easter allows us to be the most loving people we can possibly be. And that happens in the context of all our doubting and fear. [from Michael Commane]
The apostles locked themselves in an attic for fear of Jewish reprisals. Even after Mary Magdalene came running from the empty tomb announcing that she had seen the Lord, the stayed locked in. They were afraid that what had been done to Jesus could be done to them. The turning point came when Jesus himself appeared right among them and helped them over their fear. He breathed the Holy Spirit into them, filling them new energy and hope, giving them a share in his mission. "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you." In the power of the Spirit they got their courage back and left their self-imposed prison, to bear witness to the life and message of Jesus. This is the picture of the disciples that Luke gives us in today's reading from Acts. He describes a community of believers, the church, witnessing to the resurrection both in word and by the quality of their living.
Perhaps we are sometimes like those disciples, locked within ourselves, inactive, unwilling to take any initiative. The "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" may have dampened our faith. Like the disciples after the death of Christ, we may have abandoned our faith journey, unable to see the way forward. The experience of past failures make us hesitate to try again. Even another Christian full of enthusiasm and hope, like a Mary Magdalene, can be kept at bay. "Let them get on with it," we say, while we hold back and stay safe. Today's gospel suggests a way out of such confinement. The Lord himself will find another way to draw us into freedom. No locked doors, nor even locked hearts, can keep him out.
At first, the apostles doubted that Mary Magdalene had met Jesus. Later on, Thomas refused to believe that the others had seen him either. He needed tangible proofs, definite and demonstrable. Unless he saw with his own eyes, he would not believe. Jesus gave him the proof he needed. "Put your finger here," he said, "and feel my wounds." He forgives our fears and doubts, and finds us right where we are. We need to say in our turn, "My Lord and my God."
As we join in our Sunday Mass we are here to meet the risen Christ in person. Sharing in the Eucharist is a statement of loyalty, both of personal and shared faith. In praying together we also help each other to stay faithful; it strengthens our Christian community. It was because the members of the early Church in Jerusalem met so regularly in public that the number of people who came to believe in the Lord increased steadily.
No-one else can do our believing for us. This is powerfully illustrated in the story of the disciples who had hidden in an attic in Jerusalem. After the execution of Jesus just two days before, they could not dare go out for fear of their lives. But Jesus suddenly came among them, and his greeting was Peace to you. Their response was utter joy. The gift of the Spirit was the breath of the Risen Christ. When the disciples inhaled that life-giving Spirit it took over their lives. Soon they left the Upper Room as changed characters, full of missionary purpose. They go out animated, fired and propelled by the Holy Spirit.
Thomas the Twin was missing that day and so did not share that experience. Though he was an apostle of Jesus, he was an independent individual, suspicious and skeptical. He could not believe just on the word of the others. For him, honesty was more important than groupthink or loyalty. So when the others said they have seen the Lord, Thomas demanded definite proof for himself. For this he was ever afterwards called 'Doubting Thomas'. Eventually Thomas came to believe in the resurrection like the other disciples, when he saw the risen Jesus with his own eyes. The story ends with a message for all who have not seen the Lord, but who are called to believe in him just the same. We are among the later generations of believers to whom this message applies: 'Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.'
Our faith is a great gift from God. But it is not an inert gift that can we lock away like some precious jewel. It is a living gift that needs nurturing, to grow and mature. Like other life-forms, faith can wither from neglect. We need to pray about it, think about it, and express it in actions arising from love. This does not mean that we will never have any doubts. But if like Thomas we continue seeking, we too will come into the presence of Jesus and say "My Lord and my God!"