Over the last year I have found myself in houses, only a short distance from where we are that have no light, no heat and very little food. The reasons why people find themselves in such circumstances are because of changes in the social welfare system. Over a 2 week period the amount given to a claimant is very low. Further to this, if they should miss an appointment or show themselves unwilling to cooperate with procedures they will be sanctioned, which means they will be removed from the list of welfare recipients, and be without money, at all, until a new claim is made and processed which could be 3 or 4 week. They will be without money, any money, over that period. Hence a Victorian situation has emerged where people are living in houses without heating, or light or food. It is not unusual to go into houses with candles burning and to look at the occupants and know that they are malnourished.
Those in the welfare offices are now recommended to say to people in such circumstances. Got to the foodbanks; and give them the times and places where they are opened. Go to St Bride’s, where they might help you or contact the SVDP society in your area, who may give you help with your power card to supply you with a bag of messages.
In the Gospel of today’s mass rather than highlighting the story of Thomas I want to highlight the first part of the Gospel. When Jesus comes to his apostles and shows himself to them, he says: Peace be with you – whose sins you forgive they are forgiven, whose sins you retain they are retained. Sin should not be seen in its moralistic sense here but in its wider sense. For sin replace with the word brokenness. The Church’s work is to heal brokenness in our world – and for this the Lord breathes his spirit into us to make us healers.
Who is more broken than the poor that are in our midst. Someone who has no heat, no light and very little food – is the modern day Lazarus at the gate.
Society often wants to demonise the poor. They are scroungers, wasters, never done an honest day’s work, it is said of them. But these can never be the sentiments that occupy our thoughts: we instead are full of sympathy for the misfortune that has overtaken their lives; we hear and see their plight; we are not prepared to walk away on the other side.
When Jesus comes from the tomb he promises a new life, really a new life. For many life seems much the same, it is a daily worry that is full of terror that money will run out, that there will be no light, no heat, no food – it is very easy to end up in poor circumstances, especially beside the crushing pressures of life. Many of you will know families in terrible circumstances; people with crushing debt; youngsters who have taken out loans which will be a millstone round their necks; people who have taken to drink because of financial worries; marriages that have broken up because of unpaid bills that they are drowning in.
When Christ meets the disciples, he breathes on them and gives them his spirit and charges them to bring forth new life, heal the broken, heal wounds and division, create a new life and a new world for people. There is to be life rather than the darkness of the tomb.
Even in our day there are some outside the camp that don’t see this. People like Thomas, “who is not with them when the Lord comes”, is outside the camp. There is more to that word not with them, than meets the eye. Not with them means not just not in the room, but I suspect also not on the same page, not wanting to be associated with them, keeping his distance, not believing. There is a reason why he is not with them, because he doesn’t want to be identified with them
It is possible for us too not to be with them, and not to see the real work of the Church as to bring healing to the world. Even amongst our own, there are people that would like us to be what we do in here and not what we should be doing out there. Rather than the message spilling out from here and people finding themselves taking up causes, working in organisations, being a solution for a broken world, its easier to be in here where it is cosy and warm and everyone is on the same page.
I wonder also if there is something to reflect on here also in what Thomas does. He touches the wounds of Jesus, he touches the wounds in his hands and his side and in his feet. I think that there has to be something here that as we touch the wounds of Jesus are we not also called to touch the wounds especially of our neighbours. Is that not what the Church should be about. To get right down and touch these wounds. Isn’t it true when you see a wound your re-coil at the pain that you see there, your instincts are to run to stem the blood, to bandage the wound, to soothe the other’s pain. Is this not the case when we see really see the wounds inflicted on our neighbour, we can’t but be moved.
It’s sometimes easy to turn your gaze away from the poor in the world. There are certainly different grades or levels of poverty that surround us from the absolutely poor to those struggling to make ends meet. It’s easy simply sometimes not to see. In John’s Gospel the word seeing has a special meaning, not just to see with your eyes but to really see, to percieve, to fully understand. This idea of sight beyond sight is returned to over and over again and it is at play here too. Thomas’s seeing is more than seeing, it becomes fully understanding. It’s a dawning realisation of what it all means.
I would like to suggest it is easy to see the poor and yet not to see them. Easy not to see the miserableness of their life, the daily struggle, the situations that has got them to this point. But when you see them, I mean really see them, there is something that happens to you inside. You cannot turn away, your cannot be unaffected, you cannot wonder how their life is. It is as if we are exactly like Thomas staring at the wounds and touching the wounds of Jesus, we are wide eyed at what we are seeing.
The Church’s work is redeeming work, healing work, merciful work, binding up wounds work, lifting up people who have fallen type of work. It’s the first words that he has to say to us when he has risen, that there is work to do, his work to share in.
It’s not by coincidence that in the first reading that those early Christians gathered to break bread and then share and distribute their goods, especially to the poor.
That’s a radical and inspiring vision to live up to, that somehow we have got very far away from. A Church that is the Church when it gathers to celebrate the Eucharist but alongside that washes the feet of others, acts as a servant and comes to the aid of those in need. The 2 things are part of the same mystery.