Sunday 28 April 2019 the readings were Acts 5: 27 -32 and John 20: 19 – 31
My thoughts were as follows …
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit …
THE DISCIPLES – WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THEM?
I get the feeling they were a mixed bunch not always depicted as good role models in the gospels. For example:
Ran away – when the going got difficuly
Fell asleep at crucial moments
Missing the point repeatedly when listening to Jesus
Jewish mother looking for special favours for James and John
Denying they even knew Jesus with oaths
And that is just among the twelve we have names for. Some barely mentioned in the accounts we have – just their names and the briefest of biographical details are there. Some are totally un-named as we read that 70 were sent out at one time so that is 58 totally unknown to us.
Note there are also a number of women, often called Mary, who did follow.
So giving Thomas the soubriquet “doubting Thomas” seems a little unfair. All the others, apart from Judas Iscariot the betrayer, have no qualifier to their name. Why not denial Peter or sleepy James and Sleepy John? Why has that tag stuck? Why has poor old Thomas got that epithet?
Yet this was the first time Jesus was addressed as God in the recorded events – so such a negative view of Thomas is in my view decidedly unfair? It is pointed out, if we take the view that chapter 21 was a later addition, that this is neatly towards the end of John. The gospel started with an acclamation that the Word – or Christ – was with God at the beginning and here is doubting Thomas at the end being given the words to round off the whole book. Another point is that Thomas was a very modern sort of person who wanted proof and once he got it he was totally convinced. We look for physical proof.
So why not Believing Thomas? He needs a makeover.
Was he one of those there, even in the background in the Acts 5 story? It was their custom to meet at Solomon’s Portico and although only Peter is mentioned by name he was obviously not alone. We had not read the whole account but they had been preaching there and been put in prison and somehow had miraculously escaped and carried on preaching about Jesus in the temple when our passage began.
They had gone from craven cowardice to courageous convection.
Quite a reversal of attitude in the disciples in Acts compared to the gospels.
They were in the temple and being subversive as far as the council or Sanhedrin were concerned.. The things they were saying were so similar to what Jesus had said that they were at risk of following in his path to execution. However a couple of points I note: there seems a note of concern in the council’s questions in that they may be held responsible for helping bring about the death of Jesus and this may not have been their best move. It is also worth noting a little earlier in the passage that the authorities were worried about clamping down on the disicples as it might have been unpopular with the crowd who it seems had taken very much to the message of Jesus.
Certainly we read that Joseph of Arimathea (in the Luke account) was a respected member of the council and he was the one who buried Jesus so they were not without followers in that august body.
It is also interesting to note that the Jewish Christians continued to meet in the temple right up to 70 AD when it was destroyed by the Romans. What we might these days term Messianic Jews – know of a number in Leeds who retain their Jewish culture allied to a faith in Yeshua as Messiah they call Jesus.
So how can we apply our reading of these two passages to ourselves here in Keighley nearly 2000 years later?
The disciples had gone from timidity and fright to boldness and almost fearlessness. Almost seemingly oblivious for their own safety or well-being. Such was the power of what had been revealed to them. So what made the difference?
We know that there had also been Pentecost prior to the events of Acts 5 but let us not underestimate the impact the resurrection made on them.
Because they had realised that Jesus was resurrected and victorious over the power of death and evil. We celebrated the resurrection last week and week by week by remind ourselves of our belief in our affirmation of faith – the creed. But does it really make it any easier to be bold about our faith? We who have not seen Jesus unlike Thomas.
Want to mention a word that is being used a lot these days in pronouncements from diocesan HQ – evangelisation. Some people have a reaction to this word as it has the same root – a particular approach to theology known as evangelicalism often known as evangelical. This places more emphasis on a personal conversion experience and the Bible as the sole basis of faith, and often appears to have an exclusive approach to faith that separates individuals into either “in” or “out” amongst others – an approach that dates back only as far as the early 18th century. Some evangelicals are more literalistic in their interpretation. However such an approach was not there at the beginning of the Christian story: an older view of the word would be about being concerned about demonstrating the good news in our lives and the way we conduct ourselves. I am not a Greek scholar but I understand, and no doubt such individuals will correct me if I am wrong, that evangel is the Greek word Ευαγγέλιο meaning good news, from which we derive evangelism and also evangelical.
So in the sense that I am prepared to be known as a Christian and ready to argue my position and state what I believe openly I could be described as evangelical in my commitment to spreading the good news (evangel) of Jesus but not in my theology.
HOW MIGHT WE SPREAD THE GOODS NEWS?
Although I am reminded of the statement attributed to Saint Francis about spreading the gospel – “use words in necessary”. It is living out our faith making a difference where we are. But what stops us from being bold?
Why might I be reticent?
Naturally shy and retiring
Fear of upsetting people
Frightened of the reaction
Fearful of attack or other reprisal (less likely in UK but the experience of those from other countries might well be very different. Let us consider the Easter Massacre in Sri Lanka as an example where Christians are in a minority.)
But taking notice of the disciples statement to the council – we obey God?
A lot of individuals I talk to have a sense of the spiritual in life and are genuinely unsure about faith but very few are so definite there is no God. Even those who self identify as atheist I still have a sense that for most (but not all) that there is some recognition of the possibility of the spiritual aspects of life. I sense in many a hunger for spiritual matters and we can all share how we see our faith helps us make sense of the world we are in. I admit I do not have all the answers and have to trust in God for things to be sorted out but tell them in my understanding and experience the Christian approach is the best fit I have seen to understanding life, the universe and everything …
May each of us be willing to be obedient to God and live out our Christian lives with conviction so others may see the Kingdom of God being established. Amen.