Friday, July 3, 2020

"Doubting Thomas" and the Real Humanity of Jesus

Today we celebrate Saint Thomas the Apostle. It's time for the famous painting (one of them) by an Italian fellow named Michelangelo Merici da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Among other things, Caravaggio was the inventor of "HD" (😉joke). The Gospel tells us that the risen Jesus said to 'Doubting Thomas': “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe” (John 20:27).

Caravaggio's 1602 painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas assures us that Jesus was speaking quite literally... for some people it "assures them" to the point of making them uncomfortable. Not everybody likes the Caravaggio style. He remains a great painter of historic significance, but few people are enthusiastic about every great painter. And people have their own tastes and preferences in art. Nevertheless, the jolting realism of Caravaggio has a point, and maybe we're right to feel "discomfort" in one sense. Ultimately, real Christianity is "uncomfortable" because it's not a collection of stories, ideas, and rules that we can finally master and control by our own power (though people always try).

Real Christianity is a Person; real Christianity is A MAN, a particular man from a particular place and time, a real man of flesh and blood and bones, of spirit and intelligence and freedom.

Real Christianity is the Word who became flesh to dwell with us; God the Infinite Mystery, the Source of all things, for whom the depths of our hearts yearn - whom we long to know and love - but who is always beyond our power, who cannot be grasped, to whom we cry out for a fulfillment we seek without really understanding it: the Infinite became a man so that he could be with us as our brother.

The Mystery became flesh so that as a man he could enter human history and heal and transform it "from the inside," through his human life, death, and resurrection that initiate a New Creation beginning with his risen humanity. Still he remains a real man (Thomas is invited to verify this with his fingers that touch the transformed but still "open" wounds in his now-immortal but still human flesh).

This man, Jesus of Nazareth, is deeply involved in every person's life whether they know it or not. He calls us to a relationship with him. He is all wise, all good, entirely trustworthy and (if I may put it this way) madly in love with each one of us, with our particular humanity, our flesh and blood, our soul, our reason, our freedom. He loves me, he loves you right now, even if our lives are totally messed up, even if we've done terrible things, even if we have been running away from him.

He calls us to a real relationship, which is going to be mysterious and difficult and better than anything we could do alone: it is an adventure in which we are not the ones who are "in control" (even as it engages all our intelligence, creativity, co-operation, and responsibility). "Blessed are they who have not seen, but still believe" (John 20:29). Believers are called "blessed" by Jesus. They are not called "comfortable." Living a relationship with Jesus Christ takes us way outside our boxes and way beyond our comfort zones. It's a "love story," after all.

And Jesus never said "Do not be uncomfortable." He said, "Do not be afraid" (see e.g. Matthew 14:27, Luke 5:10, John 14:27).

Do not be afraid. Trust in Jesus Christ, always!