Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sermon; Easter 2A; John 20:19-31

Every year on this 2nd Sunday of Easter we get this gospel.  Every year we hear about “Doubting Thomas,” why that's a misnomer, or why our faith should not rest on physical appearance alone.  And every year preachers everywhere have to come up with something new to say about this passage that NEVER takes a year off.  Let's see if I can't pull something new from this very familiar passage of scripture.

During Jesus' ministry, he was continually drawn to those people from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.  People who were hungry, poor or sick; people who were outcasts, pariah and notorious sinners; women, foreigners and prostitutes; and people who were bleeding, leprous and mentally unstable.  These were the people whom Jesus met, ate with and ministered to.  And the people with whom he debated, criticized and denounced were the rich, the powerful, and those who would place burdens on others that they themselves were unwilling to carry.

During his time on earth Jesus was not afraid to associate with those whom others condemned.  He was willing to touch and be touched by people ostracized and condemned by the religious purity police.

In reading through the gospels, there are only a few times when someone other than Jesus was at this level of inclusivity – mainly in the sending of the twelve to heal and preach, and again in the sending of the seventy.  Other than the brief mentioning of these incidents, all welcoming and touching of those deemed unworthy by the religiously pure was done by Jesus.

During his time on earth, Jesus gathered around him many followers and disciples.  He taught them in a variety of ways what it meant and looked like to follow God in heart, mind and soul.  He taught them through parables, by example and with debates.  He taught them that being a disciple, being a follower of God, was more than following the rules and finding ways to exclude people; it meant understanding the word and seeing all the ways God includes people.  And it meant reaching out and touching those whom you might not otherwise touch.

In other words, it wasn't good enough for Jesus to tell his disciples it was okay to touch those on the margins of society, he had to show them.  And today his lessons paid off.

For us, we have just come through Holy Week and the first week of the Resurrection.  Thomas shares that time-line with us today.  The events of the Last Supper, foot-washing, betrayal, desertion and crucifixion are still fresh in our minds.

Regardless of what you think of Jesus, or who you think he is, it's important to remember that Jesus was crucified as a criminal.  Crucifixion wasn't used by Rome to punish people for not registering their donkey, or for refusing to yield to an army transport.  Crucifixion was reserved for slaves, pirates and enemies of the state.  And if you were a Roman citizen, you could only be crucified if you were found guilty of high treason.  Crucifixion was just another way those in power controlled those whom they deemed as less-than a full person.  Jesus was not a citizen of Rome, so he was automatically classified as Other, and he had been found guilty to be an enemy of the state – a king opposed to Caesar.

In this way the status of Jesus was solidified: powerless, enemy of the state, criminal, shamed and disgraced.  Jesus had moved from rabbi and beloved teacher who welcomed outsiders to being a complete outsider himself, hung on a cross, left to die and readily forgotten.

A week later stories are beginning to circulate.  Mary and some other women tell of an empty tomb.  A couple of disciples heading toward Emmaus claim Jesus talked with them and celebrated a kind of Eucharist.  Ten disciples claim he entered a locked room and gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And today Jesus appears to the eleven disciples and has a confrontation with Thomas.

In one sense this is the gloriously resurrected Jesus.  This is the Son of God, second person of the Trinity, raised on the third day who overcame death and the grave.

In another sense, though, this is Jesus the criminal.  This is an enemy of the state, a person shamed and disgraced.  This is a person who epitomizes every person he ever cared for, healed and treated with respect because nobody else would.

And now this person stands before Thomas and says, “Touch me.”

All of the lessons Thomas sat through, all of the memories of Jesus touching an untouchable, and that one brief time he did the same come flooding back to him and connect in a way that now makes sense.  And it is because all this comes full circle that Thomas is able to make his proclamation of faith, “My Lord and my God.”

Today one of the great mysteries of Christianity is on full display for us to see clearly, and that is this:
Jesus is not only found in us as we welcome those who are not welcomed elsewhere; but Jesus is also found in the outcast and unwelcome whom we are willing to touch.



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