May 4, 2008
Matthew 28:16 – 20
The glorious gospel that we just heard concludes the gospel of Matthew. In it the disciples behold the glory of the risen Lord, and Jesus sends them out from the mountain top to recreate the earth. Jesus has been given full authority on heaven and earth, and he uses that authority to begin the mission of the church. And yet in the beauty and the power of this gospel there is one phrase that strikes a contrary note—one phrase that shocks us by its negative thrust. When the disciples see the risen Lord they worship him but then we are told, “They doubted.” They doubted. How is it possible to doubt in such circumstances? How does one doubt in the presence of the risen Lord? What is this note of doubt doing in this otherwise glorious gospel?
I think it is inviting us to reconsider what doubt is and how doubt works. I would suggest to you that doubt can be a much more positive reality than that we usually see it to be. Normally we see doubt as the opposite of faith. You either believe or you doubt. But I think this gospel suggests that there are times doubt can be the companion of faith, even the friend of faith. Doubt can call faith to deepen and to mature.
You see it is not adequate for our faith to remain the same throughout our lives. We cannot take the faith that we learned as children and presume that such faith will serve us the rest of our lives. As we go through life, we grow, we mature. Faith must grow and mature with us. A simplistic faith is inadequate to the challenges of adult life. Here is where doubt can play a constructive role. Doubt can prompt us to question a simplistic faith so that our faith may mature. Doubt may invite us to reconsider an inadequate faith so that we might have a faith that helps us to live.
When we begin a new phase in our life, it can be frightening. When we start a new job or enter into a new relationship or take on a particular challenge, we know that we will need God’s help. But in those times we may doubt whether God will be there for us. Such doubt does not need to be seen negatively, such doubt can be the opportunity for us to recommit ourselves to the belief that God will be faithful. There are times in our life when we have prayed for something and it has not been granted us. In those moments we can begin to doubt. Has God heard me? Does God care? Is it even worthwhile to pray? Those doubts need not destroy us. They can be the opportunity for us to develop a more mature attitude of prayer, one that does not simply ask for what we want, but also knows that every prayer must end with the prayer of Jesus, “Thy will be done.”
When we face tragedy in our life, it is easy for us to ask where is God? Doesn’t God care? Why would God allow this to happen to me? And that can give rise to doubts. Yet those doubts can be the opportunity for us to understand that God’s promise to care for us is not a promise that we will be protected from every pain or suffering. Rather God promises us to walk with us through every phase of our lives. Doubt can cause us to reevaluate an immature and simple faith and give us the chance to deepen and mature what we believe.
Now of course some doubt does lead to despair. Some doubt can lead to the end of faith. But that is not true of all doubt. Doubt can be constructive. So when we find ourselves doubting, we should not panic. Doubt is not necessarily the sign that we are losing our faith. It can be the sign that we are growing in our faith.
The apostles doubted the presence of the risen Lord, and Jesus nevertheless sent them out to preach the gospel. We can do that as well. If we allow doubt to undo a simplistic faith, it can lead us to maturity. If we allow doubt to challenge an inadequate faith, it can bring us to one that suffices. If we allow doubt to remove a faith that constricts us and holds us back, we can find the way to eternal life.