Weekly Gospel Reflection — 27 April 2014
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my G‑d!”
Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, G‑d’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
The symbolism in this last chapter of John’s telling of the Jesus story is in overload. As we noted briefly last week, John is retelling the creation story around the person of Jesus. Like the creation story itself (Genesis 1.1), John starts his story with “In the beginning…” (John 1.1). While the Genesis account has humanity as its zenith, John has the creative energy G‑d used in Genesis — “the Word” — becoming human. He then moves on to seven “signs” more-or-less mirroring the seven “days” of creation (notice that Jesus “rests” in the tomb, just as Yahweh “rested” on the seventh “day”). But, John is telling the story of New Creation — the thing that Israel has been longing for. And, as we saw last week, on the “eighth day,” i.e., the “first day” of New Creation, Jesus was raised from the dead.
In the passage above, we’re told that it’s still the “first day of the week.” Which means it’s still the “first day” of Jesus’ resurrection, the “first day” of New Creation, the “eighth day/sign.” And then, just a few short verses later, John states that another eight days pass by. We’ll come back to this.
In the first part of this story, Jesus says the most harrowing words he could have ever spoke, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” I don’t know about you, but that chills me to the bone. The weight of that statement is unbearable. Jesus is saying that, just as he was the embodiment of Yahweh in the world, we’re to be the embodiment of Jesus. That is…
We are to be the Word of G‑d made flesh.
To paraphrase Paul, we are to be the “visible image of the invisible G‑d” (Colossians 1.15; NLT).
As it’s been said over and over again, we may be the only Jesus some people ever see.
The question then, is, what image of Jesus are we portraying? What image are we suppose to portray?
To me, John seems to be saying that, if we’re not sure what that’s supposed to look like, we need to go back and read his story again and again and again until we get it; until it sinks in and becomes a part of us.
Likewise, if there are parts of our lives that don’t mirror the life of Jesus, we need to change them.
Notice that in both parts of this story, Thomas plays a leading role. In the first part, he wasn’t part of the initial appearing of Jesus — he didn’t experience the resurrected Jesus on the “first day of the week.” When the others told him what they had experienced, he stated he would need to experience it for himself. Instead of this being an obstacle for Thomas to overcome, I think it’s really wise.
Too often, we’re expected to take the word of others — be it our pastor, or priest, or teacher, or even blog writers — and not question them. Not Thomas. Instead of blindly believing what the others told him, he wanted to experience the risen Christ for himself. And because of this, he’s been dubbed “Doubting Thomas” and ridiculed by a lot of people.
I don’t think that’s fair. Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted. According to Luke’s telling of the story, when Mary Magdalene and the other women told the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead, “Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women” (Luke 24.11). Peter and John raced to the tomb to see for themselves if this was true (John 20.3-10; cf. Luke 24.12).
Furthermore, we seem to forget that, when Jesus was intent on going to Judea to raise Lazarus from the dead, and the Jewish authorities were threatening to kill Jesus, Thomas was the one who said, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus” (John 11.16). So, I don’t think it’s a matter of his faith. Again, the way I read it, Thomas doesn’t want to base his faith on the experience of others. His faith must be built on his own experience with the resurrected Jesus.
Therefore, when Jesus appeared to the disciples “after eight days,” and Thomas was with them, I think Jesus’ comment, “No more disbelief. Believe!” was directed to all of them, and not just Thomas. Certainly, Jesus directed his statements to Thomas, even challenging Thomas’ previous statements, but Jesus’ commands seem much broader than just Thomas.
And note that Thomas didn’t touch Jesus. No where does the text say this. It says when Thomas saw Jesus, and was, indeed, reprimanded, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my G‑d!” None of the others did that.
This brings us back to the “eighth day.”
John says that “after eight days,” Jesus appeared again to the disciples. Do we suppose it’s a coincidence that it was another eight days? Hardly. Anyone reading John would catch that he’s always doing stuff like this. A classic example is Peter’s restoration — three denials, three affirmations.
As we’ve seen, “eight” represents New Creation. John isn’t just talking about G‑d fixing what’s broken in creation. He’s talking about G‑d creating something new in the midst of that brokenness. “Eight” represents that.
And Thomas just happens to be with the disciples eight days later. John’s point is that New Creation is ever increasing. Yes, it started with the Jesus’ resurrection, but it’s continuing to grow. It’s a slow process, certainly, but every time someone has their own experience with the risen Jesus, New Creation takes place. Whenever we offer water to a fellow sentient being, New Creation takes place. Whenever we visit those who have been marked as sub-human and outcasts by society, New Creation takes place.
On this second Sunday of Easter, may we recognize New Creation is right here. As St. Paul said, “The old has gone away, and look, new creation has arrived!”
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC