The authors of the Gospels are ancient writers. They do not aspire to some value called "objectivity" nor do they write with the same rules that apply to modern historiography. If one simply looks closely at Matthew, Mark and Luke, it soon becomes apparent that the authors are making subtle (sometimes not so subtle) changes in language. (an easy example, Matthew often make Mark's 'one' into "two', two blind men, two angels, etc.) The ancient writers are comfortable re-shaping the narrative for theological purposes, because it reveals the deeper truth. The more wooden, literalistic and simplistic modern approach is "fact" driven, but can miss the forest (truth) for the trees (facts).
However, having noted the difference, it is also the case that in ancient times the listener still was concerned with the question "did it really happen?" One can find numerous ancients who are concerned with veracity. So while the Gospel is not a modern biography, it does relate events from the life of Jesus. And the ancient reader, while not scrutinizing the text in the modern way of reading history, would still at some point want to know: is what you say of this Jesus true?
Today we read from John, the night of Easter Sunday. The followers are shaken, after the crucifixion they fear they may be swept up in a dragnet of his followers and put on their own cross. Perhaps the words of Jesus "pick up your cross and follow me" were mocking them in the fretful silence. There may have been a time of bravado when carrying the cross and dying looked worth it, but now? Now, in the face of Jesus' own demise, the motivation has waned, terror rules their hearts. Hidden away. Worried. Afraid.
Suddenly He is there. "Shalom!," He greets them. "Shalom." This is not the world's peace, a shaky time of lull in combat. It is not a fleeting moment to catch your breath... It is the Kingdom atmosphere, peace, balance, abundance, security, "all is well." It is the state being in that prayer of Teresa we wrote about the other day. No worries. No fears. Possessed by God.
In John's Gospel, it is implied that after the resurrection Jesus might have ascended to His Father and has now come back. The Fourth Gospel also makes a Pentecost event of this appearance, as Jesus breathes His own 'ruah' (breath) upon the apostles and says "receive the Holy ruah/Spirit." The super power He bequeaths them? FORGIVENESS. He gives them power to forgive (and reminds them of the power of withholding forgiveness). The ministry of the church--proclaim the Kingdom, teach, heal, exorcise, forgive sins, reconcile and give life--is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift received and a task on which we embark.
Thomas is not there, so in the face of his friends claim that they have see Jesus, he announces that he is not a simpleton to be easily duped, and he makes bold demands for proof. See, even ancient people are not easily convinced that dead people rise alive. [It is noteworthy that both Matthew and Luke have references to the apostles looking at the risen Lord, being filled with joy, but still "not believing."] It may not be modern but it is certainly human. The impossibility of Jesus being with them is as much a mystery to the ones who saw it as it is to us who hear about it. "How can this be?" they ask and we ask. "How can this be?"
The Gospels never portray the apostles as heroic or flawless, instead they emphasize the opposite. In an honor culture, which takes shame so seriously, it is amazing that the real events dictated that the documents reflected the bumbling disciples as bumblers. One knows that only truth could convince people to reveal themselves in such unappealing ways. No apostle would relish this portrayal of himself. The power of the event, the power of the actual Jesus actually rising from the grave and actually appearing; that power is the only explanation for the lack of spin in their self portrayals. One can almost hear them saying, "who cares about me and what my failings were, look at Jesus, dead and now alive, vanquished and now Victor. Look at Jesus, for He is all that matters!"
Jesus tells Thomas, when He appears a week later, come here, "feel me, touch me." The implication is Thomas's own words were heard by the Master, even if He waited a week to respond. (A helpful reminder that God can seem terribly slow moving). The story ends, as I told the children chapel today, with a turn in our direction. The author writes, not modern history, but revelation. God is not contracted into the limits of time and space. The narrative, after commending Thomas' confession (Jesus is Lord and God) as belief, goes on to proclaim a beatitude: blessed are those who have not seen and believed.
Blessed, in other words, are you and I.
It is as if Jesus paused and comes out of the page for a moment, looks us in the eyes and smiles. "You," He says, "you are blessed because you believe." No eye to see Him, no body to touch, no voice to hear. Yet, we say, "I believe."
So you are mentioned in the Bible. You, a "not-see-but-believe" contrast to Thomas. But he makes the highest declaration of faith in the Gospel. Seeing and touching he makes the confession of faith. Tradition has it he faithfully carried the message to India! What will we do? What will we who believe He is Lord and incarnate God do this day? Easter is a season, fifty days of resurrection peace and joy, fifty days of celebrating Life's victory over death. Fifty days, and we now enter week two of telling the story.