Sunday, 19 April 2020
I am sure that we are all familiar with the phrase – seeing is believing. It is one of those phrases that is ‘just there’ in the national psyche. But … have you ever pondered exactly what it means?
Seeing is believing seems to be a perfectly reasonable statement that demonstrates our practical, down-to-earth state of mind – there is no way we could be easily hoodwinked into believing the unbelievable or the impossible.
Our use of the phrase seeing is believing shows the world that we know the difference between fact and fiction, the possible and the impossible, the realities of daily life and the nonsense peddled by those who are probably just trying to cheat us out of our hard-earned riches (whatever they may be!).
Today’s reading from St John’s Gospel, at first glance, seems to be nothing more than a post-resurrection moment when the apostle Thomas is saying: seeing is believing.
It is because of this moment in the gospel narrative that Thomas has been known down the centuries as ‘Doubting’ Thomas, but … was Thomas really the only doubter in those early days after Jesus’ resurrection?
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on the first Easter Day only to find that it was empty. She ran and told Peter and John, who did not believe her – they had to go and see for themselves.
Their doubt only turned to belief when they saw the linen cloths lying in the empty tomb.
But … what did they believe?
The gospel tells us – They did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
Peter and John went home knowing only one thing – the tomb was empty.
Even when Mary Magdalene had encountered the risen Jesus and passed on the exciting news to the other disciples, St Luke’s gospel tells us – these words seemed to them an idle talk, and they did not believe them.
Then comes our gospel reading of today. The disciples have locked themselves away – confused, fearful, doubtful. And then Jesus is suddenly standing in their midst.
Do they immediately cry out in relief and joy?
And when Jesus says: Peace be with you,
do they immediately proclaim the resurrection?
It was only after Jesus had showed them his hands and his side – only THEN did the disciples rejoice at seeing the Lord.
Thomas was NOT the only doubter – the only one to subscribe to our ‘not so modern’ notion of seeing is believing. ALL of the disciples needed proof in order that they might believe.
Is it any wonder then that Thomas (who had not been with the others on the occasion of Jesus’ first appearance to them) wanted to join them in seeing the ‘evidence’ for himself.
Thomas knew what it meant to see Jesus risen from the dead – Thomas knew that seeing Jesus meant coming face to face with God.
Down the centuries, it has become easy for us to pour all the doubts and uncertainties that crowd into our minds from time to time onto the shoulders of Thomas, but is that fair?
Thomas did not just want to SEE Jesus – he wanted to see him in order that he might believe.
To put this in context we have to remember that Thomas had been there for the whole of Jesus’ ministry. That means that he heard these words (recounted in Luke’s gospel) – Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and ‘The times is near!’. Do not go after them.
When seen in this light, Thomas’ so-called ‘doubt’ is actually an example of faithfulness to Jesus’ teaching – he is determined not to be led astray.
And so, where are we in all this?
Aren’t we all like Thomas?
Don’t we all have questions to ask?
Haven’t we all had times in our lives when we have doubted?
Haven’t we all had times in our lives when we have been deceived by those who were just leading us astray?
In that time of my life when I was a teacher, one of the subjects I taught was Philosophy. As a teacher of philosophy I was trying to train young minds in the skill of constructing strong arguments, having gone through the process of asking ‘good’ questions.
That seems very relevant in our response to today’s gospel reading about Thomas.
Jesus does not ask for blind faith.
Jesus is ready for us to have open-eyed faith – faith that is based on our ability to ask ‘good’ questions.
But … there is more …
Jesus says blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
We need to remember that Thomas did not just believe what he saw – he also believed what he did not see.
Remember – Thomas had already seen someone come back from the dead – he was there when Jesus raised Lazarus! Being alive after being dead does not necessarily equal being ‘God’. The key for Thomas is an understanding of the implications of what he has seen.
Thomas believes that Jesus is not only alive, but also that he is God.
The other disciples rejoiced at seeing Jesus alive –
Thomas was the only one to proclaim – My Lord and my God.
Thomas was the one who saw
and believed that Jesus had risen from the grave
Thomas was the one who had not seen,
but who believed beyond seeing that Jesus is Lord.
The Christian faith has always, and probably will always, face challenges from those who claim that it cannot stand up to critical scrutiny.
We are living in a culture that is caught between ‘blind faith’ and ‘blind doubt’.
We – uncritically – accept and pass on sensational gossip; but we also claim that the fantastic and the challenging must have been ‘photoshopped’ or manipulated in some way.
Perhaps it is time to let Thomas be our guide, rather than the butt of our criticism.
Let us all follow Thomas in asking questions and seeking evidence –
Let us also not be afraid to accept the amazing reality of the resurrection – to see with open-eyed faith that Jesus is indeed our Lord and our God.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!