Reflection: A commandment that frees
Over the last few weeks, the news cycle became increasingly violent: two reported mass shootings in the United States, the Vatican ruling against blessing certain people who love each other, and weather patterns that are wreaking havoc. I kept thinking, “We are a nation of Thomases, a people who question and doubt and panic when it gets hard. Humans.”
When things get rough, when a bad thing happens, it is human nature to assume we have bad luck on our side, that God has forsaken us, and that we are alone. But the readings this week call us to remember a few important things about our faith as Christians, Easter people who believe in the risen Christ.
The first reading calls us to remember that we are a “community of believers . . . of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32). That is a big ask—to be of one heart and mind with those who may think hurtful things about me or my brothers and sisters, to be of one heart and mind with those who do harm. The first reading also tells us the community of believers shared everything without greed, and everyone had what they needed.
This past year we saw a lot of people come together in times of need, but we also saw that our own fears and doubts can lead us to be greedy and covet things that others in our community may need more than we do. “There was no needy person among them,” we hear in the reading (4:34). Can we imagine how this pandemic could have been if there was no needy person among us? If we truly lived in a way so that goods “were distributed to each according to need” (35)?
The second reading tells us that we show our love for God by keeping the commandments. There is a sneaky line in there too: “And [God’s] commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Again, our initial reaction as humans, doubters, and questioners is to say, “Hold on!” Some of those commandments are hard: not to be jealous, not to be greedy, not to lie, and, most important, to love one another as Jesus loves us.
To love one another: to stop fighting. To love one another: to allow others to love. To love one another: to stop hating others for their differences from me. To love one another: to cease bigotry, exclusion, and violence.
It is hard to believe in a love that strong when we look around us and see devastation and destruction, when we see hurt and despair and sickness. We have trouble believing and feeling that love when we can’t see it. The reality is that most of us in this community of believers have to look hard to see the risen Jesus: We aren’t waiting in an upper room for him to appear. Sometimes, we are all Thomases.
And sometimes we are the other disciples in the room, pulling the Thomases along, holding them up, and convincing them that God’s love is real and strong and that Jesus is risen.
The psalm this week uses beautiful imagery and metaphor to tell us about God’s strength: “I was hard pressed and was falling, but the Lord came to my help. The Lord, my strength and might, has become my savior” (Ps. 118:13–14). It is easy to be a Thomas, to doubt and question when the answer isn’t directly in front of us, and it is beautiful that the post-Easter scriptures give us those narratives too. That we, thousands of years later, might see ourselves in another disciple, who even days after Jesus died had trouble believing and keeping the faith. It isn’t a weakness to doubt like Thomas. But the question becomes: “Where do I see and feel the love of God? How can I love as Jesus loved?”
That commandment doesn’t feel like a burden, but like freedom—the freedom to love without cost, without boundaries, without hate. It is the freedom to not always see and still believe that this love is possible.
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