Simeon and Thomas

As we approach the first Sunday after Pascha, what we in the East call Thomas Sunday, I’ve been thinking about the famed Doubting Thomas of the Gospel in contrast with another man who met Jesus much earlier in His earthly life.

On one hand, you have a man who had followed the Lord for three years, had heard promises of the Resurrection, and refused to believe it until “I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20: 25) On the other hand, you have the man to whom it had been revealed “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2: 26)

It is, to me, a stark contrast. Thomas refuses to believe that the Lord is risen from death until he has physically seen and touched the Lord himself. Simeon does not require this; for him, merely holding the Christ child in his arms is enough. In contrast to Thomas’s demand to put his finger in the nail holes, Simeon tells the Lord that he can be dismissed in peace. Seeing the Christ child was all of the Lord’s salvation that Simeon needs. He can depart in peace because he has seen this Child who is “destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword shall pierce through your [Mary’s] own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Simeon is an old man near the end of his life. He has lived as long as he has with the promise of the sight of the Christ. He has seen what he was promised. He can depart in peace. He does not need to see the miracles that will come or the Lord’s glorious Passion. He has seen the Lord’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. He has seen the infant Light of the World, and it is enough. His soul is satisfied.

Thomas is not so easily appeased. Three years with the Master was not enough. The witness of his brother apostles (and the myrrh-bearing women) was not enough. The future evangelist to India is not satisfied by merely hearing the Lord has been raised from the dead. No, he wants to see and to touch for himself. He wants hard, tangible proof. And the Lord gives it to him. The Lord greets him with the offer to “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27) Thomas is one of the privileged few Christians who had the opportunity to touch the Risen Lord’s hands and know that this Man truly is the Son of God come down to earth, crucified, died, buried, and risen. In the approximately two thousand year history of the Church, few Christians have had that opportunity.

And Thomas, to his credit, is chastened by this moment. The Lord greets his lack of faith with mercy, with a moment of proof, and Thomas is humbled by this moment. He acknowledges Jesus to be “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) His doubt is no more; he believes and accepts that this truly is the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world to save sinners. This is the man who will go out after the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to preach the Gospel, going ultimately to India. He has seen the Lord’s salvation. He has seen the Lord’s mercy. He has touched the proof. He believes.

But the Lord’s response to him has always touched my heart. Christ replies to Thomas’s profession of faith that “because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” (John 20:29) I’ve heard it said, and I believe this, that this is Christ’s reference to all Christians who will come after the Ascension. This is a reference to the men and women whom Thomas and his brother apostles will evangelize and all those who will follow after those first Christians. It is a reference to people like St. Helena, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Sts. Vladimir and Olga, St. Nicholas, St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata, and so many more. It is a reference to you and to me. We have believed in the Resurrection of Christ without having seen His physical body or touched His wounds. We have not put our fingers into the nail holes, but still we believe. And I dearly love that on that night eight days after the Resurrection, Christ thinks of us, makes mention of all of us who will come after those first apostles.

Both Thomas and Simeon are given to us to encourage us. Simeon believed in the hope of a promise he had received from the Holy Spirit. He saw the Christ child, and he was satisfied. He had seen but a taste of the goodness of God’s promise; it was enough. Thomas doubted the Resurrection (after all, who had ever seen a man come back from the dead of his own power before?) until he had seen it for himself. But when he saw the truth of the Lord’s promises and the Lord’s mercy to his doubt, he embraced both the truth of who Christ was and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. I think that St. Thomas is intended to encourage and support us in our moments of doubt. May we also embrace both the truth of who Christ is and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. And may we cry out with him, “My Lord and my God!”

Would God give me something I can’t handle?

I recently heard a man I respect say, “People often say that God won’t give you anything that you can’t handle. I don’t think that is true. I think that God won’t give you anything that he can’t handle.”

I agree with that, and I’ve been thinking about it in respect to my own life. I’ve had a particularly difficult (from my own perspective) go of it the past two years. I’ve had things that I loved taken away from me. I have willingly walked away from things that I once thought that I wanted. My life has changed dramatically, and it hasn’t always been something that I’ve wanted or enjoyed. I’ve had to be brave and strong in times and in ways that I would have preferred to avoid. I’ve had a few people tell me that they admire how strong and brave and capable I’ve shown myself to be, but I struggle taking those compliments.

I struggle with them largely because I’m not getting through this on my own strength. On my own, I am not strong or brave or graceful or gracious. My own natural inclination is often to get angry or cry; I have cried many times in all of this. I’ve acted against my inclination too many times to believe that the reason that I’m getting through this on my own power. When people see me being brave or strong, that’s God working in me and through me. He’s getting me through this; he’s handling it. I don’t understand what he’s doing, but I know that he’s in control. I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t know what will happen on the way. But I do know who is driving.

My natural inclinations send me to some pretty dark places. And those dark places are part of the reason that I struggle with the idea that God wouldn’t bring me to something that I couldn’t handle. On my own, I struggle to believe that anything good could ever come from my current circumstances. I struggle to believe that I could ever have good things. I doubt that my job situation will ever improve, that I will ever have joy.

This situation is more than I can handle. In fact, it is far more than I can handle. But it is not more than God can handle. The goal is not for me to become stronger on my own. The goal isn’t for me to handle this on my own. The goal is for me to hand this over to the Lord each day and get through the day on his grace, on his strength, on his power. I’m not supposed to get me through the day. He is supposed to do it. He didn’t bring me to this season of my life to make me into Superwoman. He brought me to this season of my life to teach me to surrender to him and to teach me to allow him to be in control. He who walked on the stormy Sea of Galilee can handle this season of my life. He can handle all seasons of my life, and he won’t give me anything in any of those seasons that he cannot handle.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

-Philippians 4:13