"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
How many of us have given this sort of ultimatum in a relationship? And for how many of us was the ultimatum an emotional reaction to an unfulfilled hope or a cover for some other wish, one that perhaps we don’t know or don’t recognize?
I call this redlining God, and I’ve learned over the years that it is not possible to contain God inside my red lines any more than it is possible to contain God within the four dimensional box of my own imagination. Our minds are conditioned by what we can experience in length, width, height, and time – the space/time box of our senses. We live much of the time inside that space/time box.
And it is inside that space/time box that much of the time we experience God’s love and grace. But many of the really important things we experience by God’s love and grace both inside and outside the space/time box.
The most common experience of God’s love and grace both inside and ourside the space/time box is human love. Those of us who are blessed with relationships of love – parent and child, husband and wife, family and friends, know love that is expressed both within the space/time box and love that transcends the space/time box. We express in what we say and do a love that is greater than anything we can ever say and do.
In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Let us make humanity after our own likeness.” One way we are made in God’s image is that we have the gift of love. This side of the Resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit is that we share God’s spirit of love. As St. John says in his first Epistle (4:8, 10-11) “God is love . . . and sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him . . . not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, is God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
We who love learn that red lines, ultimatums, have no place in relationships of love. Perfect love is without conditions. But we are not perfect, and sometimes we do as Thomas did and give ultimatums like his. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
God is good to us. He loves us, and he gives us what we need. So when Jesus appeared to his disciples again the Sunday after the Resurrection, he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
The gospel continues, “Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
We are not told that Thomas followed through on his ultimatum. We are not told that Thomas did in fact feel the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side. Jesus offer was sufficient. In Jesus’ presence Thomas knew the divine love, love gave him the gift of faith to believe and confess, “My Lord and my God.”
In late July this year we will remember another ultimatum, made by Austria-Hungary to Serbia July 23, 1914 after the terrorist assassination June 28 of the heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones which resulted in World War One, and reverberates today.
There have been other ultimatums since, internationally, nationally, in churches, in families, in relationships. It is hard for us to learn that ultimatums don’t work.
Ultimatums come from a mind-set like cement, all mixed up and firmly set. Jesus calls us to be flexible. Our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic church are celebrating Pope Francis’ declaration that Popes John 23rd and John Paul 2nd may be venerated as saints. The traditional rule is that God makes saints and the church recognizes God’s action by the evidence of at least two miracles. But in the face of complaints that this evidence of miracles has not been proved for two popes Pope Francis has apparently declared that the evidence of their lives is sufficient to demonstrate the sanctity of his predecessors.
Jesus calls us to be flexible, to respond to his presence, to his love shown forth.
The example of Thomas may help us learn the love of God shown in Jesus, love that brings us to repentance and faith in him, “Our Lord and our God!”
Our risen Lord Jesus continues to come to us. He continues to do “ many other signs in the presence of his disciples . . . that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”