Wednesday, April 14, 2010

04-11-2010: Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday
Acts of the Apostles 5:12-16 / Psalm 118 / Revelation 1:9-13,17-19 / John 20:19-31
Thomas, the Doubter, is center of attention in today’s gospel, sticking his fingers and hands in places not many of us would dare venture. We’re told that Thomas, in Aramaic, means “twin.“ He’s also known by the Greek equivalent, Didymus. And, in apocryphal sources, further identified by a more complete epithet, Judas Didymus Thomas. In some of those apocryphal sources, he is even identified as Jesus’ twin.

I remember attending a lecture years ago given by a psychologist who had spent his career researching identical twins separated at birth and raised apart. Well into adulthood these pairs of twins had been reunited, usually through the efforts of at least one of the pair to find his/her family of origin. The psychologist presented a detailed account with a lot of scientific lingo, but it was the unexpected coincidences that were completely mesmerizing. Like the fact that on their shared birthday, two recently reunited twin sisters sent each other the exact same unique birthday gifts – crossing in the mail. Or, the uncanny coincidence that a set of male twins had married women (unrelated to each other) with the same first and last name. And that of a set of male twins, separated at birth and raised by remarkably different families, ended up joining the same small and obscure religious cult, unbeknownst to each other.

The idea of identical twins becomes even more intriguing as we now know infinitely more on a genetic basis than ever before. Identical twins share the exact same DNA “fingerprint” and, for those twins raised apart, provide a near perfect way for researchers to explore the relationship between heredity and environment – a relationship, if able to be understood and evaluated correctly, which can make an enormous difference in all our lives. The drives and desires of the twin can provide a window into our souls as well, helping us understand what it means to be human with a taste for the divine.

That’s one of the reasons that the story of Thomas, the apostle, the doubter, the twin, is so intriguing. Today’s gospel reveals that his absence from the Upper Room (one might wonder why) when Jesus first appeared, frames his skeptical and brash reaction to the others’ quick faith regarding the amazing claim of resurrection. Thomas is no easy sell. He’s a hands-on type of guy – literally. If he hadn’t been born in Palestine you might think him from Missouri, that show-me state. Thomas is a searcher, an explorer; he has to feel the truth, not just hear it. One reason could be the back story to the text and the apocryphal scriptures we now possess attributed to the “Thomas school,” which, in theological jargon, is known as docetist. Docetists (from the Greek, meaning to seem) believed that Jesus only appeared to be human; in actuality he was a completely spiritual entity that only seemed to possess a body and share our common human experience. As one of those apocryphal texts put it: “Jesus never blinked; and he didn’t leave footprints where he walked.” In showing Thomas probe the very body that docetists would only understand as an apparition, the gospel was confirming the orthodox position which Thomas comes to share: Jesus was no ghost, he was indeed a real human being - a man with appetites.

Thomas, as a twin whose brother is never identified, except in those apocryphal texts (a mythical explanation of seeing a divine counterpart in Jesus himself), is the exemplar of the man in search of something he intuitively knows is missing. If we’re lucky – lucky in the realm of grace that is - we might, like Thomas, identify what we long for, put our finger on what’s missing, so to speak: the very thing - or person - who will complete us and make us whole.

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