Trust and believe.
Homily 496 – Thomas Sunday
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
May 1, 2022
Epistle: (14) – Acts 5:12-20
Gospel: (65) – John 20:19-31
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is Risen! Christos Voskrese! Christos Anesthi!
Do not be unbelieving but believing. That is the message Christ offered to Thomas. That is the message Christ offers to us.
Believing what? Believing what we proclaim over and over and over – that Christ is risen from the dead. That is what Thomas didn’t believe and now did believe.
So where does belief come from? What is the origin of belief? The touching of Thomas gives us two sources: Our own eyes and experience, for one. And the second is the word of someone we trust.
Trust. It is tricky, this trust thing. In our world, since the mid-1960s, we have been conditioned not to trust. With good reason! The people that we should trust lied to us. They betrayed our trust.
And so, we trust no one – and nothing. We can no longer trust anything that we don’t see or experience ourselves. It used to be that we could trust video, but now that can be manipulated. We used to trust witnesses – but with the idea of “false flag” events where people are lying about who did what, trust is eroded.
Why should we trust the Gospel writers then? Why should we trust that generation of first Christians, who have such a remarkably different interpretation of events than that of the official line?
We have to step back a bit and see, first of all, why people are untrustworthy. Why do they lie to us?
As in the first century, as well as today, mostly it is to retain power and authority and control. The Jewish leadership lived in fear of losing their position in the Roman governance system. Ostensibly, they feared the loss of position – power, influence, wealth – more than the abandonment of their religious faith in God.
After all, it was the Jewish leaders – the elites and powerful – who proclaimed “We have no king but Ceasar.”
They had a strong motivation to preserve their status quo at all costs – even at the cost of abandoning their own faith and relationship with God.
Now, draw that line forward – today, people are motivated to obtain and retain power, authority, wealth. And bending, breaking, the truth is an accepted way of continuing their own status quo – and as such, they likely cannot be trusted to give us the truth.
But then take a look at the witnesses and advocates for Christ – the Apostles, Disciples, the Gospel writers – all the people on the side of Christ. What power, what authority, what wealth were they looking to protect by lying to the people? What would be their motivation to lie?
My answer is that they had no motivation to lie, exactly because they weren’t powerful, they weren’t part of the elite, they weren’t authorities, they weren’t wealthy. These were fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, mentally ill. What we might call the “dregs” of society.
They only knew oppression, not power. They only knew poverty, not wealth. Those that did have a modicum of power or wealth gave it all away, at the command of Christ and the Apostles.
Why would anyone lie to get something they were going to throw away? That’s a stretch, in my way of thinking about it. I’m not personally going to lie, cheat, or deceive anyone to obtain something of value only to give it away.
Zacchaeus, recall, at his conversion – he was one who likely had cheated people out of their wealth. Yet, he sacrificed that, returning every defrauded denarius, and even of his legitimate wealth gave half to the poor.
Or the Apostle Paul, who actively persecuted the faithful, who tossed aside a future of power and authority within the Jewish elite, to be persecuted and impoverished himself.
To me, the witness of the early church, for the first three hundred years especially, was a Church born of persecution and powerlessness. These are not the voices of those with any motivation to deceive. There was no ulterior motive.
Some said “well, they knew the power and authority would come. That is why they did it.” Perhaps – but would you be willing to have your eyes gauged out and your tongue cut out and your hand cut off for power that your great, great, great, great, great, great-grandchildren might get?
It was well over 500 years before the Church began to hold any kind of civil authority and power. And over 1,300 years before the Church actively held political authority, at least in the East. Probably a bit earlier in the west.
And it continues today – we have to look at the motivations of any who speak. Are they speaking from a position of power and wealth? Or a position of powerlessness and poverty?
Because ultimately, the truth is not about any of this – not about power, not about wealth, not about status, not about influence.
It is about only one thing: salvation. If Christ is risen, we can be saved. If Christ is not risen, we have no hope.
Thomas, in his belief, reminds us of that hope. The Hope – Christ Himself. And dear brothers and sisters, that is what Christ calls blessed. Those of us who believe not because we have experienced or seen, but because we have trust in those who have.
The trust – that leads to belief – that leads to throwing away wealth and power – that leads to salvation.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is risen!