An Easter Meditation in the time of Plague

St. Thomas the Apostle, Caravaggio, 1601

When I was in school, the nuns told us to model ourselves on the life of our patron saint; that is, the saint we were named after.

Named Thomas, I had an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Should I aspire to the brilliance of Thomas Aquinas, the angelic doctor? Or the integrity of Thomas Becket, the holy, blissful martyred Archbishop of Canterbury? Or the steadfastness of Thomas More, the martyred Man for all Seasons?

Even at twelve, I knew I had none of those qualities; certainly no aspiration for martyrdom.

But there was one Thomas this Thomas could emulate. Thomas the Apostle: Doubting Thomas, Skeptical Thomas, Empiricist Thomas.

The Thomas who dared say to The Christ: “Yes, I trust you Lord, but I’d also like to verify. May I see your hands.”

So here we are this Spring of our Discombobulation, when everything is up for re-evaluation. Including our most deeply held religious convictions.

What I want to say here isn’t a sudden brain-fart. I’ve been mulling this over for decades. It’s not Easter morning that’s the centerpiece of faith. Rather, it’s the discourse on Holy Thursday evening, when that barefoot, homeless rabbi had two hours left to convey the wisdom of the ages to a dozen slow learners from the Galilee.

And so he did in two great commandments (commandments, not suggestions): Be at peace with yourself, and in that composed frame of mind, be kind to all others. (John’s Gospel account of the Last Supper, Chapters 13–17)

Those two ethical principles were the core of the teaching. All the rest — hypostatic union, transubstantiation, trinitarian dogma — were just Graeco-Roman add-ons meant to make the Jesus movement attractive to the Greeks and Romans so it could finally took root in the Hellenic world.

St Paul, an observant Jew writing to the Greeks, said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (First Corinthians 15:14).

With all due respect to the patron saint of my hometown in Minnesota, I think Paul got it all wrong. And that mistake would play out for centuries as dogmatic Christianity would persecute and punish millions in the name of the one whose thesis was simply to develop composure and manifest it in acts of compassion.

What if they found Jesus’ bones tomorrow? What if archeologists found a pine box with the inscription, “Here lies the carpenter’s son. He ran afoul of the law.” Would that be any reason to doubt the wisdom of the two great commandments? Peace Be with you; Love one another.

Would that relieve us of the need to develop self-composure and share it with others? Would it undo the requirement to be merciful or a peacemaker

In fact the greater act of faith it seems is to believe that composure and compassion can carry the day. Especially where there is so little evidence of that in daily life. The autocrat can send the prophet to the gallows on a whim, but the courts were unable to even try, let alone convict, any of Wall Street’s vampire squids who destroyed the pensions of millions.

So tragic that over time, so many would be executed in the name of oxymoronic dogma found in the Christian Creed (God-man; virgin birth; resuscitation from the tomb). All the while forgetting the universal need for the ethical commandments: be calm; be kind.

There is nothing in the rabbi’s teachings that require an empty tomb for their authenticity. He was an ethicist, not a dogmatist.

For devout Jews of Jesus’ time, God was the measure of all things. For the rational Greeks then, man was the measure of all things. We are still trying to find a way to harmonize that tension between faith and reason. Today the arguments is called “science vs religion.” And it is killing us

So I propose a way to harmonize these two pillars of faith with the technology-based world we have created for ourselves.

All tools work on the principle of leverage — input a finite amount of effort, and leverage it in order to get greater and greater results at the output end. Archimedes wrote: Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and I can lift the world. (And he could if he had someplace in space to set the fulcrum.)

So before you input energy into any tool you use, whether pencil or supercomputer, seek to be in a composed state of mind. And determine that the outcome at the leveraged end of the action is an act of mercy or kindness to others. Be calm; be kind. This is the true and authentic sign of the cross for those of every faith: the apogee and the perigee; the alpha and the omega. All the rest is commentary or distraction.

Be well, be safe, be calm, be kind.

© 2020, Thomas Mahon

Painting by Caravaggio, 1601.



Storyteller. I’ve been a filmmaker, merchant sailor, glass artisan, playwright, and 40-year veteran of Silicon Valley. And each job brought new stories to tell…

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Tom Mahon

Storyteller. I’ve been a filmmaker, merchant sailor, glass artisan, playwright, and 40-year veteran of Silicon Valley. And each job brought new stories to tell…