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Sunday 7 April 2024 Second Sunday of Easter

Good news for the outsider

John 20:19-31

By Phil Groves

Parish Priest, dyslexic academic missiologist and writer, creative thinker and communicator

Context: a service of the word in a lively village congregation of around 50, energised by dyslexic, autistic, and ADHD members

Aim: to bring release of shame to those at the margins of our society.

THIS STORY IS OUR STORY

I have always identified with Thomas. His story is my story. It was hearing his story as a teenager that led me to commit my life to Christ. Let’s explore why it is so powerful.

Thomas was an outsider. The other disciples thought the same way as each other, but Thomas saw things differently. While other apostles jostled for power, he alone recognised that following Jesus to Bethany for the funeral of Lazarus was to join him in a walk towards death.

I know what it is to be an outsider. I am dyslexic. People think that dyslexia is about issues with spelling and reading, but those are just trivial symptoms. The brains of dyslexic people process things differently. Our brains struggle with sequencing, but the way we think inspires creativity, empathy, and enables vibrant communication. Autistic people and those with ADHD have different skills and challenges. What we share is that we are minorities: we are ‘neurodiverse’. Neurotypical people are the majority and order the world very efficiently. Wonderful.

We who are dyslexic see opportunities and pitfalls that are not obvious to most people. This is also wonderful. The strong, creative teams combine the strengths of all ways of thinking. Sadly, systems and structures are often designed by the majority, leading to neurodiverse people being excluded. We are often outsiders.

 

THOMAS’ SHAME IS OUR SHAME

Thomas’ response to being the outsider was shame. Ashamed by missing out on the words of peace, the breath of life, and the forgiveness of sin, he responded angrily. His demand to put his finger where the nails were and to put his hand into Jesus’ side were not simply the desire for evidence; they were an unreasonable, angry response to his shame.

I know this shame and this anger. Through school, I was labelled as remedial and humiliated by teachers and classmates. I still know shame. I have a PhD and have written books, but kind people still seek to help me with my dyslexia by explaining about coloured filters, or fancy software that can help me in my sad condition. I know they’re trying to be helpful, but they shame me again and I hide my anger.

Neurodiverse people are conditioned to be ashamed. We rarely talk about our experiences as we expect to be judged, so we are isolated. Recently, confidential communities have begun to emerge, and we have discovered that we share a common experience of shame.

 

THOMAS’ WORDS ARE OUR WORDS

Thomas’ words are my words. As an outsider, I feel unlovable, and I expect rejection. I sometimes pre-empt that by getting angry with those around me and I make unreasonable demands.

Jesus responds with words of peace. Thomas was offered the opportunity to test the evidence, but Thomas did not need that. The words of peace removed his shame.

If Jesus was prepared to come to Thomas with words of peace, he is prepared to come to me. Thomas was no longer an outsider and nor am I. We both say: ‘My Lord and my God!’

Jesus makes the connection between Thomas and us. He believed when he saw, we are blessed for believing without seeing. This story is our story, by order of Jesus.

JESUS IS LORD

Thomas is remembered in South India and Sri Lanka for going to the ends of the earth to proclaim, ‘Jesus is Lord’. Not for him a place at the council in Jerusalem.

 

Even today neurodiverse people are often at the cutting edge of mission. We are prepared to go to the limit in service of the one who takes away our shame. We rarely have roles of power, but we often transform society.

 

We are not alone. The most profound responses to Jesus were always from people released from shame. It is the same now. If you want to see Jesus today look to refugees, prisoners, and those in the care system who have had their shame removed by the words ‘Peace be with you’. Outsiders continue to be shamed in society and by the church, but all are loved by Jesus.

The story of Thomas is our story.

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