Do not doubt but believe.
When you were very small you probably dressed up as doctors or nurses, as fire-officers or cartoon characters –my first school even had a dressing up corner at where we could play at being teachers and homemakers and all the rest.
Even the youngest children learn by watching and copying other people, they explore and try things out for themselves, they occasionally get into a mess, and they see how other people react. Play is an essential part of learning.
Just compare that with how I learned French at my old grammar school. We sat at rows of desks with our grammar books in front of us and we learned verb tables and vocabulary. By the time I was 16 I could conjugate the verb devenir in the past historic and the imperfect subjunctive perfectly – but I couldn’t open my mouth to order a simple meal in a French Restaurant. I had the grammar but not the practice – being able to speak in French only came when I lived with French speaking people – why I could listen and copy, experiment and play –and occasionally get into a mess.
So why – I ask you – do we do always think that it is the other way round in Church? Why – in older times and in other churches – did we used to make teenagers go through long confirmation courses learning long prayers and creeds and catechisms before they could take the sacrament?
And nowadays, why do people still have that horrible guilty feeling that they’re not fully christian if they don’t believe or understand all the bits of the creed?
And so I want you to picture an alternative version of today’s Gospel. The risen Jesus appears with the disciples in the upper room and he convinces them that he is alive and that he has risen from the dead. Thomas is not with them and so he has not seen and has not believed. A week later Jesus appears again – and this time Thomas is there. – Now this is where my story is different – Jesus takes Thomas to one side and asks him to sit down next to him as he explains how he is two natures in one person, the divine logos – the second person of the Holy Trinity of Father Son and Holy spirit, How he is of one substance with the Father, begotten not made in a hypostatic union – and he makes Thomas repeat it until he has got it right. And then Thomas stands up and says to Jesus: yes I understand it all clearly now – thank you: My Lord and My God!
Well – it wouldn’t happen would it! It wouldn’t work – and what Jesus actually does and says is ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, Reach out your hand and put it in my side. ‘ In other words he says – go on – play with me. – like a child. Watch, look, see – touch, explore and try things out for yourself, see how we all react – and then – only then, you will come to believe.
Jesus seems to be saying to us:
Go for it, act as if it were all true, and then you will discover that it is.
So I think Jesus in this wonderful Gospel story is trying to tell us that worrying or feeling guilty about whether or not you actually understand or believe all the great Christian doctrines of the creed – will not bring you faith. You’ve just got to get on with it, as if you do.
Spending hours learning devinsse, devinsses devînt, devinssions, devinssiez, devinssent – is good and fun and actually quite important for some people – but it doesn’t get you another coffee in the bar. Whereas waiving your arm around and pointing to the empty cup just might.
Or to speak on a deeper, more spiritual level and less flippant level. Thinking about faith will not bring you faith – only living your faith will. We do before we understand, more often than not – we act as if, before we act because.
Thinking about becoming a better person will not usually make you a better person – whereas acting like a better person – even a little bit better – will. And the more you act like a good person, then the more and more you will become one. The more we tell the truth, the more truthful we become. The more generous we are, the more generous we become. The more trustworthy we are, the more trustworthy we become. Good habits grow on us and change us.
And the reverse is also true – bad habits also grow on us.
One sin does not make us a wicked person– but the more sins we commit, and the more complacent we become, might. What we do, changes who we are.
So Jesus says: ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Come play with me – Act as if you believe in me – and lo and behold – you do.
This is the basis of grace and prayer. We are counted worthy by God, not because we are worthy – how could we be – but because if God treats us as if we are worthy, then one day we will be.
We say ‘Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’ not because we are in any way ready for God’s great reign to come on earth in exactly the same way as it is in heaven and shake up all we take for granted –– but we say ‘thy kingdom come’ so that one day we might be ready.
We say words, we do actions, we form habits – in order that we might believe. We receive the sacrament, we re-enact liturgies – in order that we might believe. We try to live good and honest and faithful lives – sometimes having to make the effort and force ourselves – and sometimes, many times with mixed- motives, in order that one day we might become good and honest and faithful and just do it naturally – which by God’s good grace we will.
Just look at the reading from Acts of the Apostles: nothing about creedal statements and understanding what on earth is going on, and yet lots and lots about sharing and caring for each other, learning the resurrection and Christian faith by living it.
And great grace came upon the apostles.
And so: do not be afraid to ‘Put your finger right in there and see Jesus’s hands, or to reach out your hand and put it in Jesus’s side. …… stop agonising about it all and come play with me – says Jesus – Do not doubt but believe.