“…but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”
[1 Corinthians 1:23]
When we hear this familiar line from St. Paul’s letter, I often think of the situation of those who do not yet believe, those to whom we are preaching the Gospel. But the Cross can be a scandal even for those who do believe, like you and I, and St. Thomas the Apostle.
The word “scandal” comes from a Greek word “skandalon,” which basically means “stumbling block,” or “something that causes another to trip and fall.” It isn’t quite the same as the meaning the word “scandal” has today in the news, where it means something more like a “public disgrace.” Now, it is easy to see how the Cross might be a scandal to those who do not yet believe in Christ, but how is it a scandal to those who already believe in Him?
Simply put, the Cross can be a scandal to you and I, because we are limited. No matter how strong we may think our Faith is, or how devoted we might be to following Jesus, sometimes dark days come upon us, and all the intellectual arguments and positive thoughts in the world can’t budge them. We fall, and God remains silent in the midst of all this. Or maybe this hasn’t happened to you, but happened to someone you know. You wanted to encourage them, but it was no help.
This was St. Thomas’ experience after the cross. The other disciples, true evangelists, gave him their honest, personal witness: “we have seen the Lord!” But that didn’t mean a thing to St. Thomas. Were the past few years of his life, those years of wonder and adventure, leaving everything to follow Jesus around, a total waste of time? Was he going to die too because he had been seen publicly with Jesus? If the Lord had really risen, why wouldn’t He have chosen to appear to him too? Didn’t the Lord know that he would have wanted to see Him, just as much, if not more than the others? Only God and St. Thomas will ever know he felt inside during those days.
People don’t lose their faith just because something has happened to them. People lose their faith because after something has happened to them, they decide, often overwhelmed by anger or despair, that they “will not believe.” [John 20:25] And the words of Jesus’ other disciples simply weren’t enough. Our witness and explanations to others are at best an invitation for them to encounter the Risen Lord. It can never be a substitute. No matter how much we want to save someone, like St. Thomas, it is only the Lord’s appearing to them that will grant, or restore to them, the gift of Faith.
Now St. Thomas did do one thing right – he was with the disciples one week later, even though he probably didn’t feel any better. Whether it was because he had nowhere else to go, or because God used the witness of one of the disciples to move St. Thomas to try just one more time, St. Thomas definitely deserves credit for at least coming back. It’s counter-intuitive. As soon as things start going sour on us, we look for a way to get the heck out. We might even walk away for some time. Years even. We can’t restore the faith of others, but we can invite them to be with us and wait for God. Because it is only in waiting for God, though He seemed absent, that He will suddenly but gently return, though the doors have been closed to Him. He will let you touch His wounds that you now share from your suffering, and you will know the power of His resurrection.