(Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:1-12, John 20:19-31)
There once was a poor rice farmer, who had a very small field just large enough to feed his family.
The old man owned a bony plow horse. One spring afternoon the horse ran away. The old man’s friends, trying to console him, said, “We’re so sorry about your horse, old man. What a misfortune you’ve had.” But the old man said, “Bad news, good news-who knows?”
A few days later the horse returned home leading a herd of wild horses. Again the friends came running. Filled with jubilation, they cried, “How wonderful!” But the old man whispered, “Good news, bad news-who knows?”
Then the next day, when the farmer’s son was trying to ride one of the new horses, the young man was thrown to the ground and broke both legs. The friends gasped. The old man stood still and said, “Bad news, good news-who knows?”
And a short time later when the village went to war and all the young men were drafted to fight, the farmer’s son was excused because of two broken legs. Good news. Bad news. Who knows? (Author Unknown)
Our Gospel opens with the disciples convinced that they are in a ‘bad news’ situation. They recently fled the crime scene, made their denials, and are now huddled together ‘for fear of the Jews’. They cannot see the big picture. They are in the middle of an unfolding story and cannot see the end.
But the tables turn when Jesus appears inside their hideout. His repeated greeting: ‘Peace be with you’ is a balm to their suffering, heavy souls. They respond with rejoicing. They have moved, and are moving, from defeat to faith – from bad news to very good news.
The absence of Thomas, however, results in a problem. He has not had the same experience. The disciples offer their testimony but it is met with doubt and cynicism.
I wonder if you relate.
Thomas seems hard-done-by. We call him, unkindly, ‘Doubting Thomas’. He asks, however, for little more than the experience that convinced the others. Yes, he claims to need to touch Jesus’ wounds before he will believe, but his request to see is exactly the same as the experience of the other disciples. Their confidence stems from they having already seen ‘his hands and his side.’
The most beautiful aspect of this account, in my opinion, is the simple fact that Thomas does not accept Jesus’ condition-fulfilling offer to put his finger in Jesus’ wounds. Rather, upon seeing, he declares Jesus to be who he really is: ‘My Lord and my God!’
Thomas is not a negative example. Rather he is an embodiment of the journey to faith. In this account he moves from doubt, through reason, and arrives at faith.
I wonder which parts of this story you identify with most closely. The disciples trying to persuade their friend; Thomas fiercely – even reasonably – rejecting their account as impossible; Thomas discovering a God-revealed reality he was previously blind to.
Perhaps faith is never easily won. Jesus’ blessing upon believers who have not seen is a nod in the direction of the wrestle that leads to, that is, faith. Many people believe in Jesus without ever seeing in the same way as the first disciples. We gather today and proclaim this message because people still hear and believe – because we still hear and believe.
Soon after this, these cowering disciples proclaim Jesus’ resurrection with surprising boldness. Luke, in our Acts reading, attributes this to the coming of the Spirit of God. This mysterious presence is manifest through the proclamation of ‘God’s deeds of power’ in unlearned languages. It prompted, unsurprisingly, amazement and curiosity.
And so the people of Jerusalem asked: ‘What does this mean?’
This is an important moment in the book of Acts. This asking, this questioning, becomes a pattern: God mysteriously moves; people see and question; the followers of Jesus give an account of the deeds of God.
I suspect this has a great deal to teach us about mission. Our life with God is to inspire curiosity. Peter advised the people in the churches he cared for to always ‘…be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.’ (1 Peter 3:15). He assumes their hope will inspire questions.
I wonder what questions your service in Barney’s Boutique prompts. What queries does your coming here on Sunday inspire in your friends? How do you hear and answer these questions? Are you defensive, tempted to avoid, open and articulate? I wonder how you answer when their questions go unasked.
Our reading of Acts picks up part way through Peter’s answer to the question: ‘What does this mean?’ After explaining their behaviour as the pouring out of the promised Holy Spirit, Peter tells the story of Jesus.
Parts of this story are already known since these people were there. They know what happened.
But then Peter adds two earth-shattering words: ‘But God…’
The work of God changes everything. Peter insists, ‘But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.’ It is a bombshell landing unexpectedly and defended by only eleven unlearned witnesses. It looks so unpromising, a false start, an unprovable claim.
But later we read that 3,000 ‘welcomed his message’. There were people in that crowd so convinced by this simple testimony that they were baptised – taking on this death to life sequence as their own. What is it that so many find so appealing about Jesus?
After this Peter made a habit of proclaiming the resurrection. When he writes his first letter to dispersed and persecuted Christian communities, he is still celebrating this hope. He speaks of ‘…a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ This reality is filling these refugees even as they suffer, with a joy and faith ‘more precious than gold…tested by fire.’
And these believers have ‘not seen him’. Even in their trying circumstances the presence of God is filling them with a hope that extends through and beyond life.
But perhaps this is not so surprising. After all, they have become impassioned worshippers of the resurrected one. They have a ‘good news’ hope even when surrounded by ‘bad news’ challenges. They remain in the middle of an unfolding story but have caught a glimpse of the end.
And the resurrection holds all the potential to do the same for us.