Believing is Seeing
Today we encounter two resurrection appearances that are often combined into a single incident. The first appearance occurs on the evening of Easter day. The disciples are huddled together in fear of the Roman and religious authorities – after all, their leader was executed for sedition and they’re probably next. Jesus appears greeting them with “Shalom” and shows them the marks of his crucifixion. He then breaths on them inviting them to “receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus then gives his disciples, and us, the authority to declare sins forgiven.
The second appearance takes place a week later. The difference is that Thomas, who was absent the week before, is now present. Jesus invites him to touch him and leave his doubts for faith and belief. He tells us that faith in Jesus is possible even without physically seeing him.
The Apostle Thomas was a realist; and when his fellow disciples excitedly told him that they had seen Jesus alive, he was skeptical. He demanded to see the marks of the crucifixion before he would believe their testimony. His story still speaks to us today in our doubts and fears.
A famous early 17th-century painting by Caravaggio, entitled “The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” shows Jesus grasping Thomas’ wrist and guiding Thomas’ index finger into the gaping spear wound in his side. The bared torso of Jesus is bathed in light against a dark background. Thomas leans forward intently, his brow furrowed in concentration, as he peers at the mark of the wound. Two other men hover closely over the shoulder of Thomas and observe as well.
The Gospel text does not indicate whether Thomas actually touched the wounds of Jesus; but the appearance of the Lord was enough for Thomas to proclaim, “My Lord and my God!”
Khalil Gibran, in Jesus, the Son of Man: His Words and His Deeds as Told and Recorded by Those Who Knew Him (N. Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928), imagines Thomas agonizing over the words his grandfather had taught him: “Let us observe the truth, but only when the truth is made manifest to us.”
Always looking for evidence of the truth had made Thomas a slave to doubt. “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother,” Gibran concludes.
Only when Thomas saw for himself did he believe in the truth of the Risen Lord, for “doubt will not know truth till his wounds are healed and restored.” Gibran depicts the disciple released from the legacy of doubt in his past, saying: “Then indeed I believed, and after that I was rid of my yesterdays. … The dead in me buried their dead; and the living shall live for the Anointed King, for Him who was the Son of Man.”
According to tradition, Thomas was called to spread the word of the Risen Lord to the people of India. And so, the Gibran projection of Thomas’ response continues: “I shall go. And from this day to my last day, at dawn and at eventide, I shall see my Lord rising in majesty and I shall hear Him speak.”
But here is a truth with which we must come to terms today. The church of the resurrected Jesus Christ is founded on a complete reversal of this doctrine. Now, it is “believing is seeing,” and not the other way around.
Jesus tells Thomas that those who find a way to trust in him without the privilege of seeing him — these ones are blessed. Let’s think about this promise of Jesus. He is suggesting that believing in another person actually creates a form of sight. We know that newlyweds experience this all the time. A couple would never take the plunge and get married if they elected to wait around to see everything about their mate before they were willing to believe in this other. No, they trust all kinds of tomorrows for which they cannot begin to see the details, much less the shape.
Believing in another actually creates a form of sight or perception. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” Jesus says to Thomas.
Like Thomas, we too seek affirmation of the reality of the Risen Christ; and often our doubts can keep us from recognizing this pivotal truth. But there comes a moment, whether through a period of gradual discernment or because of a sudden life-changing event, when we too find we can exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”
Happy Easter! Amen.