March 30, 2008
EASTER II (A)
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. – John 20: 29
There is a big omission in this story: what Thomas does not do is physically probe the wounds. He does not get his flesh & blood verification, but he does come to belief. A consistent message of John’s Gospel is that believing is not a matter of physical observation but of realizing spiritual truth. In fact, it is in the community of believers enlivened by the presence of the risen Christ that Thomas comes to know Jesus at a level that eluded him when he knew Jesus in the flesh.
The famous atheist lawyer Clarence Darrow once said in a debate, “They tell me there is a God, but I have never seen Him. I have no personal acquaintance with Him.” To which his opponent replied, “It is creditably reported that Mr. Darrow has a mind, but I have never seen it. I have never touched it. I have no personal acquaintance with it at all.” Mind will always be an elusive thing that is more than the sum of its material parts, but that doesn’t keep us from believing in its reality.
The fact that Thomas knew Jesus in the flesh is not an extraordinary privilege to understanding the revelation of Christ. Common sense would seem to suggest that those who saw Jesus in the flesh have a great advantage over those who did not. But Thomas’ experience suggests that the spiritual presence of Christ within the community is the way to come to a correct understanding of the pre-Easter Jesus. Physically seeing Jesus is not how belief comes about.
When people are alive we often talk of a spiritual presence to one another. An example would be two people in a mature marriage who are able to stay in the same room for a considerable period of time without talking. There is no need to talk for they commune with each other on a deeper level. Death threatens to sever such ties.
When we love someone very deeply, we instinctively fear they will die & leave us: the stronger the sense of togetherness, the stronger the fear of separation. But we are not just physical beings: we are also spiritual beings wherein it is meaningful to say that we are IN someone. Spiritual beings interdwell.
Ascension means Jesus is with God; resurrection means He is still present to the ones He loved. The disciples do not have to go on without Him. They have to go on with Him in a new way. John’s “Good News” is not impressed with the separation power of death. Jesus may be going to God, but that does not mean He is leaving His loved ones on earth. On the contrary, his disciples will be able to “see” His abiding love more clearly than before. On the spiritual level, we are never orphaned.
For those who can believe, there is a new form of presence that is not waiting for us beyond death. Even though the doors are locked, He is in our midst. This is why our Lord calls such people blessed or happy. If we do not have the joy that Thomas discovered on that fateful evening, then the loss is ours. AMEN!