Tag Archives: doubt

Reality Check (Advent 4a)

The Disnification of Christmas is almost complete.  I don’t want to be rude to the Disney franchise – I like being entertained, but you know what I mean.  The Nativity story has become a fairy story, scrubbed clean, with cute angels, a baby, and all the editing to suggest that it belongs to the world of make-believe to be fed to small children and left behind by grown-ups.  It’s not real, it doesn’t belong in the world of work, politics, adult relationships, or anything serious.

But Matthew insists on telling the story as happening to real people, with difficult decisions and painful moral battles to fight.  His nativity focusses on Joseph, (Matthew 1:18-25), a man with a problem.  He is betrothed to a girl, Mary.  Betrothal is a serious commitment, yet she has become pregnant, and not by him.  We are not told of his feelings – we could imagine a roller coaster of anger, betrayal, doubt, compounded by a story of an angel visiting her.  What we are told is that, despite this upset, he decides to do the “right” thing.  He will divorce her (betrothal was that serious!), but without making a big fuss.

He has just made up his mind when, in a dream, an angel appeared to him.  The angel is no comic figure, nor even a romantic support, but a messenger with instructions.  He is to go ahead with the marriage, and support and protect the child who will be “Saviour”.  Does that make everything all right?  Again, we are not told of his feelings.  He does as he is told.  No doubt he endures many snide comments, unfair allegations about his behaviour.  He may even have been glad to leave Nazareth, though the journey to Bethlehem was a serious challenge.

The gospel writers do not record in detail how Joseph, or even Mary (who carries more disapproval), react to this.  What effect does it have on their relationship?  How do they deal with the burden of unfair criticism, innuendo, exclusion?  We don’t know.  Or rather, we aren’t given a dramatic account of their struggles.  What we do know is here: Joseph was a righteous man (v19), and he did as the angel of the Lord commanded (v24).  Jesus was born, and protected as a child, and learnt love, and faith, and the ways of God from his parents first.  I cannot believe he was brought up by people bitter at their past, untrusting of each other, with a permanent grudge against society.

So perhaps we need to listen the the story Matthew tells with such restraint.  As a story for grown-ups, who struggle with injustice, and being judged, and having a hard time – a story for real people, a little like us.  We may wonder why God doesn’t make life easier for us, but here it seems there was a reason.  Perhaps there will be more reasons when we look back.

Entertainment for the young?  Looked at like this, it seems almost unsuitable.

 

Not what I expected! (Advent 3a)

I find it easy to sympathise with John the Baptist (Matthew 11:2-11).  Not only is he in prison, but the man he identified as the coming Messiah doesn’t seem to be baptising with fire as predicted.  Doubt sets in, probably made worse by John’s situation, and inability to go and ask questions himself.

Still, he does the next best thing – he sends someone else.  The question is direct, “Are you the one?”  Doubt and uncertainty are difficult to handle, but Christians are always allowed to ask questions – and it is better to do something to resolve doubt than let it fester.  (What is not allowed is encouraging the “you can’t be sure of anything” state of mind.)  So John sends to ask a question.

Jesus doesn’t give a simple answer.  Instead of “yes” or “no” he tells the messengers to report what they heard and saw.  Jesus is not making claims for himself, but pointing to the fulfillment of prophecy – something John would understand.  Jesus may not have fitted John’s expectations – or ours – but he fits into the prophecies and predictions of the Old Testament, making us think again about the things we might not have expected, and might not like.

Jesus then talks about John as a prophet – and the one Malachi had foretold.  He is honoured, but we are left with the amazing thought that “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”.  Why?  Perhaps because John still has to wait for a saviour, while those of us who follow Jesus as our Lord are already included in the kingdom.  We are honoured by the comparison, but also challenged.

Constructive Doubt (Thomas)

This Sunday we remember Thomas, reading of his doubt in John 20:24-31. Thomas is also remembered as the traditional founder of the Church in SW India, as a disciple of great loyalty (John 11:16), and one who could speak out and gain an explanation others probably also needed (John 14:5).
John 20:24ff teaches us a good deal about the proper place of doubt. Thomas missed Jesus at Easter, and wants evidence. It says something for the disciples’ relationships that he was still with them a week later, when Jesus again appears. Jesus is not angry at Thomas, but offers his battered body as proof. Verse 27 refers to doubt (or disbelief or faithlessness, according to translation), suggesting that it is not the opposite of faith, at least for those of Thomas personality. We need to allow questions and doubt, (not cynically and unendingly, but) to reach a more firmly grounded faith.
We don’t know if Thomas accepted that invitation to probe, but whether it is the wounds, or Jesus knowledge of his words, the reaction is remarkable. “My Lord and my God!” It seems that going through his doubt has brought him further than those who did not share that experience. His words are an embarrassment to those who cannot accept Jesus deity, but also to those who have no intention of being ruled, or living as disciples committed to obedience to a master.
Jesus’ reaction contrasts those who “see” him and those who will not. This is a reference to those who shared his company on earth, but perhaps also to those who “saw” his identity as Messiah, and as “God with us”. We may not live in the first century, but will find it easier to trust and follow as we recognise Jesus identity, and place in God’s plans for the universe and for us.
John ends his chapter recording the purpose of his writing – to bring readers to believe in Jesus and find life. The miracles he refers to in verse 30 are those of Jesus ministry, but should we include additionally the miracle of life given through faith in him?