Being tested is bad enough. Being tested in public…uff da! In the Gospel Reading, Thomas undergoes a test that has been very public for a long time. Like Thomas, these four/five catechumens will be put to the test in a public way…though perhaps today’s outcome may not be discussed for 2000 years.
When I began teaching, one of the popular slogans in the education biz of that time was “Schools should teach a student how to think, not what to think.” It was a progressive thing to say. It was a dumb thing to say!
The what and how of thinking are not opposed to each other. They need each other! A student cannot learn how to think about math unless the student has learned what 2 + 2 is! A student can’t learn how to write well if the student never learns what good writing looks like! A student can’t learn how to perform a piece of music well if that student doesn’t know what a good performance sounds like! They go together.
For three years with Jesus Thomas had been learning the what of his belief. But on those two famous Sundays, he suddenly was tested on the how of his belief!
These students before you today have spent a couple years on the what of their belief. It has been tested a number of times with memory work, exams, and projects. Today they tell you about the how of their belief…how they come to believe what they believe! A bit of both will be in their answers. But first, some of the what: “We are not saved because of what we believe. We are saved because of what God has done. What has God done, through Jesus, to save you?”
Catechumens’ Answers to Question #1
Thomas passed his very public examination, due in large part to the fellowship of those disciples. Judas had gone out and hanged himself because Judas was alone in his despair. Judas was separated from the fellowship. Thomas got put to the test because he was part of the fellowship. But in that test, Thomas’s experience with Jesus came about precisely because he was part of the fellowship.
It remains a significant element of the Christian faith that faith is never individualistic..personal, yes, but not individualistic. When we believe we believe because of the fellowship of faith in which the saving Word is proclaimed. We believe because of the nurture of faith that goes on in the Christian fellowship. And we continue to grow in this faith within a fellowship…or, if separated, our faith withers and dies.
Question #2. “Faith alone holds on to what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Yet faith is never alone! Each of us Christians believes along with all other Christians. What does it mean to be part of the fellowship of faith called the Church?
Catechumens’ Answers to Question #2
Thomas had thought that if he had the “what,” that would be enough. “Unless I see the nail marks…I will not believe.” The what, the details of Jesus’ crucifixion. But on that famous Sunday night, the thing that bowled over the doubting disciple was not the what, the scars…it was the presence of Him who bore the scars! Jesus was there. Oh yes, the what was there too, the scars. But it was Jesus’ presence that brought Thomas to his knees and taught him how to confess “My Lord and my God!”
Christian faith is not the same as knowing some details about Jesus. Knowing the what of Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus. (Although we cannot know Jesus without the what.) So our loving God puts the what to the test in life so that we may come to know how to believe. Faith is tested so that it may live.
Question #3: “The Bible tells us that when our faith is tested it becomes stronger. Even when we are weak, we find strength. How is your faith put to the test, and where does your help come from when your faith in Jesus is tested?
Catechumens’ Answers to Question #3
Thomas’s very public examination ended well. Thanks be to God. Things have ended well here this morning. Thanks be to God. But for Thomas, as for these four/five, this is not the end. It’s only been one test. Christian faith remains a life-long learning of both the what of our faith, the teachings, the details revealed in Holy Scripture, together with the how those details and teachings provide guidance, support, meaning, and faith as the living Christ gives us life.
It’s a challenge, because the classroom of life is littered with the wreckage of those who were content with the whats of faith and subsequently were crushed by the realities of life because they never learned how to believe. Likewise there is the despair of those who wrestle with how to believe but they have forgotten…or never learned in the first place…the what to believe, the details of Him in whom they want to believe.
Yet in every testing—whether private or public—there is again the potential to learn, to repent, to mature…both in the what we believe and in the how we believe…because both are gifts of Him in whom we believe. And blessed are they who remain enrolled in that school!