Thomas, a Saint for Social Media, and Another Thought from Divine Mercy Sunday’s Gospel

Thomas, a Saint for Social Media, and Another Thought from Divine Mercy Sunday’s Gospel April 19, 2020

St. Thomas examines the sound in Jesus' side.
Doubting Thomas, a saint for an age that could use more fact checking

People used to say, “I’m from Missouri, show me” — and you didn’t even have to be from Missouri. We still hear about the skeptical age that we’re supposedly in. When it comes to social media, however, gullible is more like it. Where is St. Thomas when we need him?

In John’s Gospel Jesus appears to the disciples Easter Sunday evening. Thomas was not with them and refused to believe their story. A week later Jesus again appeared. Thomas was there this time, and the sight of Jesus, to say nothing of the invitation to touch Jesus’ wounds, convinced him: “My Lord and my God!”

On this occasion Jesus blesses “the ones who have not seen and have believed.” But elsewhere in the Bible Jesus warns against falling for any and every claim one might want to believe. (Matthew 24:26) Then the subject was the Messiah. Jesus doesn’t disparage a healthy skepticism in matters of faith. In worldly matters, too, Jesus warns, “Take care what you hear.” (Mark 4:24)

“I’m hearing more and more”

My rule for judging claims that come to me on Facebook or by email is this: If it’s too good (or too bad) to be true, it probably isn’t. For many people who thrive on social media, the rule seems to be: If it affirms my most cynical suspicions, pass it on. Especially when it comes to people’s natural, and somewhat healthy, suspicions about authorities, this is dangerous. 

In a time of pandemic we hear vaccinations are a preliminary to world government. In a time when fear, anger, and hatred are prime political motivators, we hear traditional news organs publish “fake news.” The more you hear something, regardless of source, the more believable it becomes. That’s our president’s rule or the one he makes work for him. We must believe his otherwise baseless statements because “I’m hearing it more and more.”

Where is St. Thomas when we need him? Whatever happened to “I’m from Missouri, show me”? Showing is too slow and old-fashioned in a social media culture. You can’t do showing virtually.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

Catholics make perhaps unwarranted use of another piece of the Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus breathes on the disciples and says:

Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. (John 20 22-23)

In seminary I learned this passage validated our sacrament of Reconciliation. “Obviously” it refers to this Catholic practice because how can a priest know whether to forgive or retain unless we tell him our sins? In that long ago day we did too much biblical proof-texting. Much better is to accept that Jesus really did give authority to the Church, for example in the matter of sacramental discipline.

I’m inclined to think Jesus had no sacred rite in mind at all but was simply referring, as he often did, to the ordinary practice of mercy. He wasn’t giving a command or instituting an ordinance. He was simply stating an ordinary fact. If you forgive somebody, reconciliation happens; if you don’t, it doesn’t.

As I heard this passage last Sunday I thought of a traditional translation of the Lord’s Prayer:

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

I thought of the paralytic lowered through the roof, whose sins (i.e. debts in one interpretation) Jesus forgave. (See this post.) And I thought of national debts, rising in the rich countries as they rescue their economies with huge spending packages. But the coronavirus pandemic also harms poor countries’ economies, already sinking under national debt. So some economists call for national debt relief, just as some politicians in this country call for personal debt relief.   

Mercy takes many forms. Divine Mercy Sunday gives us much to think about.

Image credit: The New Theological Movement

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