Acts 2:14a, 22-32 † Psalm 16 † 1 Peter 1:3-9 † John 20:19-31
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One of my favorite TV shows was Modern Family. A few weeks ago it wrapped its final episode after eleven seasons. At its best, the show combined great slapstick and physical comedy with some beautiful and, sometimes, even inspiring sentiment. One memorable episode way back in season five was titled “Australia.” Phil Dunphy went to Australia for a vacation because he had been conceived there, and his mother had always wanted him to go and visit. He’s finally decided to go fulfill her dying wish, and the rest of the family decides to tag along.
The problem is that things don’t go very well for Phil. As soon as they arrive, he has an allergic reaction to a local fruit. Then he gets stung by a jelly fish. Then, in one of the best physical bits I’ve seen in a long time, he gets punched in the eye by a kangaroo that he thinks is the spirit of his mother. That’s worth the half-hour all by itself.
To add insult to injury, the rest of the family keeps deserting him all along the way, leaving him to face his trials mostly alone.
Finally, when Phil Dunphy—and its important you remember his last name—has had enough, he walks to a deserted rocky plateau above the ocean. The sun in setting and the sky is a brilliant pink. It is a perfectly idyllic setting… and he slaps his neck where a bug has just stung him. He’s had enough:
“Why, Australia, why!” And suddenly from behind him someone says, “Hey mate.”
Phil wheels around to see a man right behind him, hands on hips. “Everything ok here? If you don’t mind me saying, you look a bit beaten up.”
“I love your country,” Phil tells him, “but your country doesn’t love me back. Australia’s rejected me.”
In response, the man shows Phil a huge semi-circular scar on his left forearm. “You see this right here? That’s from a croc bite.” He turns around. “This one here on my back. I was hit by a tram in Melbourne. This right here, that’s an irregular mole… I should probably get that checked out.”
“The point is,” he continues, “Australia is nice to tourists, but it is tough on its own people. Congratulations mate, you’re one of us.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Phil asks.
“I think I am,” comes the reply.
“I’m Crocodile Dun-phy.”
“That’s not what I was saying at all.” He says.[i]
What does it say to us that Thomas needed to see the wounds? What do we make of the fact that to believe that this was really Jesus, risen, to believe that he had appeared to Mary and to the others, he had to touch and feel the wounds?
Thomas wasn’t the only one to have doubts, after all. He has been known historically as “doubting Thomas” as if he is the designated doubter, but Mary Magdalene did not believe until the risen Christ spoke to her directly and personally. The disciples dismissed Mary’s affirmation that she had seen the Lord because they hadn’t seen him. And where are they all now? They’ve locked themselves in a room to hide. And his response, once he sees the risen one is no longer doubt, but an affirmation of faith. “My Lord, and my God!” he says.
I suppose one way to look at this is that they all needed living proof. They needed verifiable evidence. But if that were the case, then we are all in trouble, aren’t we? You and I missed Easter by 2000 years. We have never lived at any time other than the time after Easter. We did not see and touch and experience it for ourselves.
And, for that matter, neither did the author of John. According to our best research, that gospel wasn’t written until at least 60 years after that first Easter. And as much as we might like to think otherwise, it wasn’t written by eyewitnesses. It was written by someone within the second generation of the early Christian community speaking to a group of people who, like us, knew suffering and danger and fear.
So it’s not the actual, physical scars of Jesus that lead to faith, as if faith were some kind of science experiment. In fact, in the gospels, faith is never a noun. It is never a thing. It is always a verb. It is always something that is done. Always something that we do. It is all that we do in response to the call and claim of this gospel.
And, as Crocodile Dunfee realized, it can sometimes be rough on its own people.
I think the astonishing truth of Easter faith is this: it is known by its scars. As ironic and unlikely as it sounds to our modern, American ears, if it is known by anything, faith is known by its suffering.
Or let’s say it this way. New life within the logic of this story seems to become possible precisely when everything seems to be dying around you.
And, of course, we know this, don’t we? As we’ve sheltered ourselves in our places we’ve wondered how we will be different on the other side of our social distancing and collective trauma. We understand at a root level, as does this faith of ours, that struggle and suffering have the power to change us, to open our eyes to what is wrong and missing and needed. It captures our attention, makes us alert.
We have surely seen that even as we all doing essentially the same thing, the experience is surely different. We see it in tone-deaf tweets of privileged ones who broadcast their self-isolation aboard super yachts. But, closer to home, we understand that sheltering while black or brown, while poor, while with kids, while medically vulnerable—these can be realities worlds apart even when they happen just next door.
And while many of us sit at home with little to do, non-essential, it’s not just the health-care workers and emergency personnel that we cannot do without. It turns out its the farmworkers too. It’s those who have lived for years in the shadows, who will not receive stimulus checks and who do not have health insurance. Yet they make the Department of Homeland Security list of essential workers because of their role in the food supply chain.
Danny Westneat brought this American double-standard to bear in a recent column in the Seattle Times. Of this cohort of people we often refer to as “undocumented” he writes this:
Many migrant workers are now being given letters — papers, if you will — that grant them special license to violate stay-at-home orders so they can freely go to work to pick vegetables and fruit…So the people we’re building a wall to keep out — it turns out we need them now?[ii]
Westneat answers his own question:
Of course we’ve always needed them — the fruit pickers, the asparagus cutters, the roughly 200,000 campesinos who help keep Washington state’s grocery stores stocked with produce and milk. It’s just the pandemic now is forcing our two-faced system to admit it.
In a report on the economic impact of the coronavirus, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond confirms what we already know: that the largest burdens will fall on people who are already the most vulnerable—people in low-paying, insecure jobs.
But it’s not just the poor. It is our middle class that has been thinned out as well. I did a double-take when I saw this picture from just last week in a recent newspaper article.[iii]
It looks like a car lot of some kind, but it isn’t. It is a line of people waiting in their cars in San Antonio, from last week. They are waiting for food from a food bank. Many of these are people who could have never imagined themselves needing such help.
Or consider these two related stories. In just 2018, S&P 500 companies who had just received windfalls from steep cuts in corporate taxes spent over $800 billion repurchasing their own shares. Yet when the outbreak began to close down the economy, many of these same companies laid off millions of workers, cutting them off from health insurance at precisely the time they may need it. Perhaps examining these scars may make us more open to considering that health insurance tied to employment rather than as a universal benefit may not create the most virtuous or resilient society.
By his stripes we are healed, the old saying goes. Perhaps this is what that means. If we follow this one whose hands and feet and side were scarred by religion and government that had lost its heart, we may find our way to reformation and renewal that changes us and our priorities fundamentally, that open us to the possibility of new life to the full for all God’s creatures and this creation groaning under our heavy environmental hands.
We do not seek out injuries, mind you. Nor should we. Nor does our faith ask us to. It simply acknowledges they will come. And as we attend to these injuries in ourselves and in others in the light of this one who will break through walls to meet us, to comfort us, then we too can be moved closer to this way of love and the governance of God that makes for peace.
[i] Modern Family, Season 5, episode 20. First aired on April 23, 2014.
[ii] Danny Westneat. “’Essential’ but unwanted: Coronavirus reveals another American double standard” in the Seattle Times, April 3, 2020. Retrieved on April 17, 2020 from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/essential-but-unwanted-coronavirus-reveals-another-american-double-standard/. See also Miriam Jordan “Farmworkers, Mostly Undocumented, Become ‘Essential’ During Pandemic” in the New York Times, April 2, 2020. Retrieved on April 17, 2020 from: https://nyti.ms/39HIMzv.
[iii] Patricia Cohen’s “Straggling in a Good Economy, and Now Struggling in a Crisis” April 16, 2020 in the New York Times for these and other examples. Retrieved on April 17, 2020 from https://nyti.ms/34H3heB.
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