(for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 27, 2014)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-31, NRSV).
There must be something confronting about facing a friend scarred with the marks of crucifixion.
Such a confrontation would be only a fraction of what these disciples are facing. They recently fled the crime scene, made their denials, and are now huddled together ‘for fear of the Jews’. To add to this they have not invited, or even let Jesus in. He seems to simply turn up inside their hideout!
But the most disarming part of these appearances must be his repeated greeting: ‘Peace be with you’. For a terrified and guilt-laden gathering this must be a yearned for balm to their suffering, heavy souls. Otherwise it contains all the potential to inspire their anger and hatred. Sometimes undeserved love and forgiveness has the polar opposite of its intended effect.
But these disciples, our forebares in the faith, respond with their rejoicing.
Such joy seems to overlook Jesus words: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ It is a paralleling of Jesus’ experience with what will be theirs. It is both a promise of their own resurrection and a foreshadowing of their suffering. Who would want to be sent in the same way as one carrying such scars?
Of course Jesus does not imagine that these challenges will be undertaken alone. His invitation is given with the very breath of God. These men receive both the Holy Spirit and the very commissioning Jesus has lived before them: to forgive sins.
It is an extraordinary moment in John’s account – a handing on of an unimaginable treasure.
Thomas has an intriguing role in this unfolding of this story. His absence results in a confrontation with the other disciples. They offer their testimony only to encounter doubt and cynicism.
But Thomas asks for very little additional evidence to that which the other disciples have already been given. Sure he claims to need to touch his wounds before he will believe, but his request to see is exactly the experience that has convinced the rest of the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection: He showed them ‘his hands and his side.’
An additional difference is the tone. Thomas demands and puts conditions on his belief: ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
The most beautiful aspect of this account is surely the simple fact that Thomas does not accept Jesus’ condition-fulfilling offer to put his finger in the wounds. Rather, upon seeing he declares Jesus to be who he really is: ‘My Lord and my God!’. As with many other responses to Jesus in the gospels his is an example to would be disciples. It is the response of faith.
Perhaps Jesus’ blessing of those believers who have not seen the resurrected one so directly amounts to a nod in the direction of the reader. It is a reminder that many have believed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus without the privilege of seeing first hand. This is the express purpose of John’s account: that people ‘may come to believe.’ John’s writing is openly seeking to inspire the trust that leads to life.
In the mysterious way of the gospel this life grows from the simple, yet infinitely complex and wonder-filled, belief ‘that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God’.
May you too know the life and blessing that comes from a simple yet genuine discovery of who Jesus is.