Sometimes in our desire to be profound, we miss the obvious. I think, for example, of an early draft of the “Hound of the Baskervilles” in which author Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson camping out on the Dartmoor. In the middle of the night, Holmes woke up, shook Watson and said: “Look at the sky, Watson. What do you see?” Watson replied, “I see stars, millions and millions of stars.” “And what does that tell you?”
Watson paused, then replied, “Astronomically, it tells me there are billions of galaxies and countless planets in them. Horologically, it tells me it’s 3 am. Theologically, it tells me the universe is charged with the grandeur of God.” Holmes was silent. Watson finally asked, “Holmes, what does this magnificent night tell you?” The detective simply snapped, “Watson, you idiot, it tells me someone stole our tent.”
Yes, sometimes in our desire to be profound about the meaning of the Easter season, we miss the obvious. The Easter message is simple. Jesus Christ is risen. He lives. And because He lives, we live forever.
The word of God today carries us back to the beginnings of Christianity, to a particular community that shared what they had. This should inspire us to create a better sense of community or family: gathering weekly in liturgy to hear God's word and celebrate Christ's presence, studying the bible more deeply, and generously sharing what we have.
The letter attributed to Peter speaks about our new birth in the life-giving waters of baptism. God gifted us, the author writes, with an imperishable, heavenly inheritance. And our faith will empower us to overcome hardships and “attain our goal” of salvation and eternal life with God.
The author may be asking whether we live in light of that ultimate purpose.
In the Gospel according to John, we have a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples in a Jerusalem house. Jesus was not simply a spirit or ghost; nor was he simply resuscitated. The resurrected Jesus was the same person. But Jesus' earthly body was transfigured, into a new kind of spiritual embodiment. Christ passed through a sealed tomb and closed doors, appeared and then disappeared, was not recognizable and then was. And in this house, the risen Christ conferred upon the excited disciples the power and energy of the Spirit so they and their successors could continue the saving ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem and beyond.
But the skeptical or doubting Thomas wasn’t there. Thomas may have been like people today who question whether there's a God.
Perhaps they should recall Blaise Pascal’s wager or bet, which goes like this: One does not know whether God exists; not believing in God is bad for one's eternal soul if God does exist; believing in God is of no consequence if God does not exist; therefore it is in one's interest to believe in God. Think about it!
Thomas here seems to have been a realist. Where's the evidence?, he probably asked. The disciples described the appearance of the risen Christ in detail. But for Thomas, seeing was believing. Besides, if Christ had appeared, Thomas may have wondered why the doors were still locked? Why they were still hiding? Maybe what Thomas lacked was not faith in God but faith in his fellow disciples. After all, they weren't very reliable in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Yes, faith in people can be tough today as it was then. Why? Because I think many people have marginalized truth. We have to recapture the importance of truth in our lives. Jesus Christ is the foundation of truth. He is the way, the truth and the life.
The risen Christ in his second visit restored Thomas' faith, prompting the cry: “My Lord and My God.” Thomas' prayer could have inspired the prayer in the musical Godspell: “Lord, I pray: to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly.”
I like to think that Thomas, like the other disciples, strove to be a man of integrity. Integrity is saying what we think and doing what we say, practicing what we preach. It's all about our moral character.
Nicky Gumbel in “The Jesus Lifestyle” emphasizes the importance of integrity with the image of the Titanic. When the Titanic set sail, it was declared “unsinkable” because it was constructed using new compartmental technology. Tragically, the Titanic sank in April,1912. It was thought that several compartments had been ruptured in a collision with an iceberg. However, when the wreck was later found, there was no sign of the long gash. They discovered that damage to one compartment affected all the rest.
Many people make the “Titanic mistake.” They think they can divide their lives into “compartments” and that what they do in one will not affect the rest. The Titanic mistake is trying to confine God to a segment of our lives and cutting God off from the rest. For example, this is my Church life, where God is involved; this is my work life, where God can’t be involved; this is my social life where I don't want God involved.
Perhaps, Gumbel writes, we should think of our life as a circle: God at the center, affecting everything in the circle. That is what I would call a life of integrity, a life not divided. Integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody is watching. It is a lifelong challenge.
So the question is: how can we avoid the Titanic mistake and live lives of integrity in our relationships, and with our resources.
First, when we make a promise, we should keep it. Honesty, truthfulness and reliability are the building blocks for integrity. Love or always wishing the other person good, no matter how much they may have mistreated us, is the context for integrity.
Second, twelve out of Jesus' thirty-eight parables are about money or possessions. Billy Graham put it well when he said, “If a person gets their attitude towards money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area in their life.”
Financial resources are basically a tool for doing good. As my father put it, “I never saw a U-Haul following a hearse.” The way we use our financial resources can have eternal consequences. Think of Matthew 25: “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat....” It's not enough to do no harm. We positively have to do good.
Jesus challenges us not to love money and use people; rather love people and use money. Focus on God and the things of God. Think of life as a circle: God at the center.
I close with Gumbel's story about Pompeii, Italy in 79 AD. Among those who fled from the lava erupting from Mount Vesuvius was a woman who sought to save not only her life, but also her jewels. With her hands full of jewelry, she was overwhelmed by the rain of ashes from the volcano and died. In the course of modern excavations outside the area of the buried city, her petrified body was unearthed in a sea of jewels.
She lost her life to save her treasure. Materialism consumed her. We can break the power of materialism by sharing what we have generously and cheerfully.
May we always think of life as a circle: with God at the center, affecting everything in that circle.