“But some doubted…”
These are some of my favorite words in this last breath of Matthew’s Gospel. I love that they are here in all their unexpected surprise, for if some who were there and who actually witnessed the resurrection and who gathered on that mountain to hear Jesus’ final instructions to them actually doubted, this leaves room for all the rest of us as well in this dance between faith and doubt and back again.
Although this is often so: Sometimes people struggle with doubt so much that they allow it to cut themselves off from this dance altogether. Some profess to have so much trouble believing they cannot bring themselves to put themselves within reach of those they perceive to be solid in their faith, thus leaving behind the very community which sustains us all when we struggle. I cannot help but wonder now if perhaps this is because as people of faith too often we don’t speak openly of our doubt. (And while there may be those who never struggle, I surely have not met them yet.) Indeed, it is likely that in our not speaking of it, we leave the impression that this is not part of our challenge. And I wonder if in our silence we tend to lead those who are more honest about their experience with faith and doubt to feel as though there is not a place for them among us.
This is perhaps why I sat in wonder this last week when I attended our local High School Baccalaureate. For in that space of time when, at least in my experience, genuine surprises are seldom ours to experience, a high school senior stepped to the podium to tell her faith story. Only unlike the witness of many on occasions such as these, her story was not one of unwavering faith. Rather, Jessica spoke of how she took her faith for granted as a child and so was unprepared for the day when her academic learning and her own life experience called it into question. Indeed, she spoke specifically of her anger at God when a good friend was diagnosed with cancer. And she spoke of spending a long night with this life-long friend watching as he peacefully took his last breath. She spoke of how her prayers moved from anger to acceptance to gratitude and she spoke of how she came to understand God as one who walked with her.
She is 18. Here words were honest and mature and faithful in a way one does not always hear. In fact, astoundingly, just a few minutes later a clergy colleague stepped to the pulpit to speak to these soon to be graduates about the importance of faith. Only, in direct and disturbing contrast to Jessica’s powerful witness, he spoke of a time when he was called in to pray with and for a friend who had cancer and of how the cancer left him never to return.
Though perhaps it was not meant in that way, one could be left understanding that if one only has enough faith, God will give you whatever you want.
I much prefer the witness of an 18 year old named Jessica. For she told her own true story of a journey from faith through doubt to faith again. And not because God bowed to her yearning or whim. But simply because God made God’s own self known to her in her darkness. (And yes, though she is not one of ours at First Lutheran, I have written to her and invited her into a conversation about a call to ministry…)
So, yes, I am grateful to stand still in the words of Matthew’s Gospel today. I am grateful for the powerful urging of Jesus to be about what matters most. But even more than that, I am grateful that Matthew names the truth that everyone was all together on that mountain. Both those whose faith was firm and those who struggled. For if we speak the truth, this is surely all of us and each of us at one time or another. And whether we believe with certainty or not at any given time, it should not matter, it must not matter. We belong in this gathering of God’s people who are called to more. And as we are allowed to name our doubt and struggle through it, I have known it to be so that one comes through stronger on the other side. Perhaps like young Jessica, whose experience of God was not as some kind of holy vending machine who gives us what we want when we want it, but who she knows as Companion and Friend. One who, in the powerful promise at the end of Matthew’s Gospel “…is with us always, to the end of the age.”
- What is your experience with doubt and faith? How did God make God’s Own Self known to you then?
- Does it make a difference to you that there were those who doubted in the company of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel? Why or why not?
- Both those who doubted and those who did not were included in Jesus final instructions here. How does one move forward in doing what we are commanded to do here in the midst of doubt? What difference does the community of faith make then? What experience do you have with this?