Saturday, April 18, 2009

B, Easter 2 - John 20:24-30 "Hear, Believe, then See"

Text — John 20:24-30

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. (25) So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." (26) A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" (27) Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." (28) Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" (29) Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (30) Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
For Thomas — seeing is believing! Perhaps you've heard of a doubting Thomas. If not, then this is the text from where the phrase "a doubting Thomas" first eventuated.
We're not told why Thomas wasn't around that first Sunday when Jesus was raised and was seen by the other ten disciples! But on reporting to Thomas what they had seen he replied in disbelief, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." (John 20:25) And so a doubting Thomas should be viewed probably a little more seriously than how we might relate to someone we might call a doubting Thomas today.
To doubt is to disbelieve; someone who is untrusting, doesn't want to listen, refuses to be united with a community of the same mind, and perhaps is even a maverick. For whatever reason, someone who doubts is lacking in trust and fails to believe.
Doubt does not stand alone! Doubt is closely connected with worry and pride forming three parts to paralyse a person's belief in something outside them. Its' when a person no longer trusts the judgement of others and in disbelief they only believe what they judge for themselves with their own senses.
Of all the senses we use to judge for ourselves, seeing is the one that seems to be what most people prefer. This is what Thomas did! He needed to see to believe and we're not that different today. Visual confirmation seems to be the greatest motivator of our judgement. Therefore, the rationale of most is this: To believe one must first see.
People want to see when something extraordinarily good or bad happens in the world, so we congregate around our televisions, computers, or buy news papers. Perhaps the unbelievable is not regarded as truth until we can see it for ourselves.
We only have to close our eyes and try to function in our daily routines to know seeing is extremely important to us. A world of darkness is foreign and frightening to those whom are threatened with the loss of their eye sight.
Similar to our individual sense of sight and need to see for ourselves, are the main senses of smell, taste, touch, and the generally overlooked internal senses of pain, balance, joint motion and acceleration, a sense of time, temperature differences, and in some a sense of direction. The four main senses together with these other senses are all very personal individual senses.
However, the fifth main sense, the sense of hearing, stands alone because it's different to the others.
The disciples tell Thomas of their experience with their Risen Lord. His sense of hearing is invoked but Thomas doesn't believe what he's heard and refuses to accept the testimony of others and wants to see for himself. And so we learn that the sense of hearing calls for greater trust then sight, smell, taste, and touch because hearing can be transmitted and received through a third person or a community. In this case the third person or the community is the disciples.
We can all speak on one's behalf so others might hear without being with them. But no one can see, smell, taste or touch on behalf of someone else. Only in recent times has sight become transmittable via an artificial third person in the medium of photography or video. Up until modern visual technology became available, if one wanted to experience something they had to be in the same place to see, smell, taste, or touch it.
But even before television or computers people have been able to hear what others have said via the reporting of events by other people. Even the sense of hearing has been helped by technology! First by the printing press, and then radio! But people's desire to see to believe meant that pictures were added to the printing presses of the modern era, and film and then video was co-joined with the sound of radio to be more believable.
On the other hand, smell, taste, and touch are not transmittable. No matter how good the sound and pictures might be, to experience the aroma, to satisfy the taste buds, and to feel with the sense of touch, we first need to be there. These all need the experience of the inner self!
So too was seeing, one once had to be there to see for themselves. Now we pull out the photos, and videos to give others the sense of being there. Yet hearing still stands apart from seeing and it involves more than one. Sure the tone and quality of sound is individualistic but the information hearing brings can be brought by others, especially when it's what someone else says. Such is the power of words both written and spoken.
However, words are only powerful if those who hear them believe them. And Thomas didn't believe what he had heard; he wanted to see to satisfy his inward senses, he wanted to see before he could believe.
There are problems with words too as they can be altered by the one who brings them. But there was a greater problem for Thomas in that first week after the resurrection and it's the problem we have today. What happens if there is nothing to see, and for that matter nothing to touch, taste, or smell? Thomas didn't see Jesus the moment he was told about Jesus' resurrection, and we have never seen Jesus the way the disciples saw him in those forty days before his ascension.
The other problem with seeing is that sight can be deceptive. What one sees is not necessarily what is there to see. As sight fails things are seen differently, and similarly are the senses of touch, smell, and taste. These senses are very personal and can change as the body ages and fails!
Then there are optical illusions that occur naturally, such as mirages on hot days and the end of rainbows which always seem to be impossible to catch. And when it comes to the electronic realm, there is a whole bunch of tricks used to lure us to believe things that really don't exist. So sight can be deceptive.
Furthermore, believing what one sees while living as God's children can also be deceptive. In fact "seeing to believe" is the oldest deception in the book.
What looked good to the eye in the Garden of Eden, we all know now was not that good after all. Time and time again the Israelites saw no way out of looming destruction or destitution, yet over and over again they had heard of God's prominence and he continually proved to be faithful. Thomas sought to believe only what he could see, yet Christ had risen from the dead although Thomas hadn't seen him.
Moreover we are told by Saint Paul in 2 Corinthians, we live by faith and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7) So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Our sinful nature taints our whole being, including our senses. Living by sight or our other senses leads us to live like Adam and Eve. This living is living with doubt, worry, and pride. This living is living contrary to the First Commandment. What we see, touch, taste, and smell is open to corruption, is failing, and is dying because of sin. So too "how" we hear can be corrupted.
But just say the person does report correctly what they first heard or saw, the next person receives the same regardless how bad their hearing might be. What they do with it once heard is a different story. But it's only when hearing is completely gone that one fails to hear.
On the other hand, hearing God in truth can never be corrupted. When we hear the word of God, especially the word of Christ, the gospel, we continue receiving faith that enables us to see and walk in the darkness of our humanity with infallible footsteps. As we receive faith we see with the light of our Risen Lord shining on us exposing what darkness once hid.
And so Thomas who doubted the word of his fellow disciples and sought to believe only what he saw and touched, didn't need to touch or see Jesus once he heard the Word of Jesus, the Resurrected Word Made Flesh, telling him to stop doubting and believe. So in faith Thomas responded, "My Lord and my God!"
Similarly for us, God calls us out of darkness into his light with his Word. He does this by the power of the Holy Spirit breathed on us, giving us ears to hear, and hearts to receive his written Word spoken. And these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Therefore, it's impossible for us to see before we believe. But rather in being still and hearing, we receive faith so we might believe. And in believing we who were once blind to the unseen realm of God now see the hidden kingdom of God is near with the perfect twenty-twenty vision of faith. Amen.