“After this Jesus revealed Himself again to His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.”(John 21:1)
In the name …
Last Sunday we talked about Doubting Thomas.The poor guy.He follows Jesus faithfully for three years.He’s going to become a solid resurrection believer.Tradition holds that he will carry the gospel farther than any of the other Twelve Apostles, actually preaching throughout the Persian Empire and even into India. But there’s that one day when the other disciples tell Him, “We have seen the Lord,” and he cannot allow himself to believe.He doubts for only one week’s time, and then on that following Sunday all hesitation is abandoned as his resistance crumbles before the risen Jesus, and Thomas blurts out emphatically, “My Lord and my God!”He gives all of his adult life to the faithful service of Jesus, except for that one week, and yet in popular memory he is known as Doubting Thomas. It’s a person’s failures that we tend to zoom-in on.
This says something unfortunate about human nature when the phrase “Doubting Thomas” has become a popular idiom in our language, but that the phrase “Apostle to India” is hardly known even by people in the church.This may be telling us something about our tendencies to focus maybe too often on the negative in other people.Let us think to ourselves about the latest gossip we’ve heard, whatever it may be and about whomever it may be.Is the gossip about some person’s success or is it so interesting because it’s about someone else’s failure?I think we have to admit that our whispers are almost always about the mistakes, flaws and embarrassments of others.
And yet it is not supposed to be that way in the church.Just two verses after the story of Doubting Thomas, we read in John’s Gospel of Jesus’ next visitation to His followers.Only seven of the eleven remaining disciples are present for this appearance on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias, and so the Bible lists who they are for us.As in most all instances, Simon Peter is listed first, but the second disciple mentioned is surprisingly our Thomas.And Thomas is again referred to, as he was in last Sunday’s reading, by his familiar nickname Didymus, the Twin.Before Thomas had refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, he was introduced to us last week by that nickname of Didymus.Now after the story of his momentary lapse of faith, the story that gave rise in popular slang to the name Doubting Thomas, our Apostle to India is still referred to as Didymus, the Twin.
Thomas had made a grievous mistake by not believing the other disciples and their witness to the resurrection.But Thomas likewise completely reversed his unfaithfulness and blurted out a statement of belief that is nowhere surpassed in the Gospels when he acknowledges Jesus as “My Lord and my God!”The failure of belief happened.It’s not forgotten.It’s not ignored.But neither is it held as a perpetual insult against Thomas.It’s not meant to forever embarrass him.It’s not whispered and snickered about.It happened, but because it happened Thomas changed.And Thomas was then respected for who he became; he was not forever ridiculed for who he was at that moment of his mistake.
The same lesson is repeated for us in the story of Peter that we read as the second part of this morning’s Gospel.Jesus and the seven disciples eat together on the shore of the lake, then Jesus invites Peter to step away and take a walk with Him.While they are by themselves, Jesus asks, three times of Peter, “Do you love me?”Why three times?…Because if you remember from our reading of the Passion accounts during Holy Week, Peter denied even knowing Jesus three separate times.After the third denial, we read that Peter rushed away and wept bitterly.This very well could have been the end of Peter’s story as an apostle.It could have ended with a message of failure.The resurrected Jesus would have had every right and reason to pass over Peter after this thrice-repeated denial.When Jesus needed Peter the most, Peter failed the test, and he failed three times.
But just like with Thomas, the Christian revelation is not about locking-in on our mistakes.Peter denied Jesus three times when he was terrified and confused in the court of the High Priest.Now Jesus gives Peter three chances to right those wrongs, three times to reverse the “I do not know the man” with three straight-forward pronouncements of, “Yes Lord you know that I love you.”Again, the embarrassment is not ignored, but neither is it the last word.Because Jesus did not forever define Peter by his mistakes so we have our example of Christian behaviour.Our spiritual obligation demands that we not relish the misfortunes of others.And just like the phrase “Doubting Thomas,” there’s a German word that has proved so useful as a description of human behaviour that it has worked its way into the English language.It’s schadenfreude, which means the perverse pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.The only reason this strange sounding word is in the English dictionary is because it serves a purpose.
We know what our human nature wants us to do.We know the draw of gossip and latching onto the mistakes of others, but Christian behaviour calls us in the opposite direction:Instead of rehashing the failures of others, we are not to dwell on them.We’re not so naïve as to deny these failures, but we don’t have to forever define another person by them.We are called to replace gossip and ridicule with encouragement.This is a lesson of Christian behaviour that shows its benefits here and now, that marks us believers as not only a different kind of people but truly a better kind of people.That we may learn from the examples of Thomas and Peter, from their failures that were turned around, that a blunder will not live on forever in the whispers of other people of faith, that as followers of Jesus’ example we try to focus more on potential than on humiliation, for this preference to take hold among us and guide our choice of words and actions, for this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)