John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Judeans, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you. ”After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.John 20:19-31
The Gospel of the Lord
Every year, we journey through Lent and Holy Week, arriving at Easter Sunday with a tag team partnership between Matthew, Mark, and Luke as our standardized readings. But on this first Sunday after Easter, Easter 2 in church speak, we always read from the twentieth chapter of John’s Gospel.
The disciples were terrified of the Romans and Judean authorities. So frightened they barricaded themselves behind locked doors. Remember before the crucifixion, Peter shrank in fear over being identified as a follower of Jesus, a potential enemy of Rome. And remember Jesus’ other male followers were so terrified only one could be seen standing at the foot of the cross. A near-unanimous majority, then, was unable to watch Jesus during his final hours. So it’s not hard to imagine their fear intensified. They had no doubts: “If the Romans and Judean authorities dealt this way with Jesus, they can certainly do the same to us!”
We, as Gospel readers, however, know something has happened already, intended to snap the disciples out of uncertainty, fear and doubt. We know about the resurrection message declared first by the angels and then Mary’s experience and her message. But for now we know most of them don’t get it. They’re stunned, full of doubts and fears. And don’t we think something undeniable, something visible, something tangible will be needed to remove the barricade from the door?
And there you have it. The locked passover room appearance of the risen Jesus. It’s dramatic, unmistakable. So obvious. It begins the transformation of the terrified disciples. Jesus is clearly alive. Look, his wounds! And just as clearly, something is different about him. But, but it’s still him, for heaven’s sake.
Now to focus our attention on the undermining of faith and loyalty done by the violence of the crucifixion, the narrator tells us Thomas, one of the Twelve, wasn’t in the room. For whatever, and for many reasons, he wasn’t there and when he did show up he wouldn’t let himself be convinced by their declarations. Thomas couldn’t believe until or unless he put his hand into Jesus’ wounds. We call him “Doubting Thomas”, a very unfair label. Firstly, Thomas simply understands the ways of the world: the dead remain dead. He grasps, as we like to say, the reality of Roman crucifixion. Maybe we should label him, “Reasonable Thomas” not a parade ground example of doubt. After all, he merely doubts the credible, the reasonable. Secondly, was Thomas the only person to doubt Jesus’ resurrection? No, of course not. In fact, everyone doubted it! On any close reading of each of the Gospels, it becomes clear Thomas’s much referenced doubt is not the exception, but the rule.
Today, we live in an age in which the credibility, the reliability of Gospel eyewitness accounts are increasingly challenged. Here is where I stand. In the narrative, Jesus appeared in the locked room, then left only to reappear about a week later. May I suggest to you when Thomas appears in the room, we have a possible eyewitness independent of Jesus’ first appearance. So, much thanks to Thomas for showing up at the reappearance. Because in the end we now have the testimony of multiple eyewitnesses from the first appearance being confirmed in the second appearance by a skeptical eyewitness. Resurrection is the eyewitness testimony of Christian faith. Acceptance of the resurrection is tough on modern day skeptics and some modern-day Christians. A lot of folk view Jesus as a compassionate sage, as a miracle worker–healing the sick, as a social worker – feeding crowds and the like. But Jesus, God the Son, laying down his life as a ransom for many, raised from the dead. A God with scars. Well, that can be, to use a theological term, a stumbling block, a scandal. Allow me to refer you to St. Paul who says repeatedly in 1 Corinthians the message of the cross and resurrection is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who believe it is the power of God
It is important to note Jesus never corrects Thomas for his doubt: “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:29). And indeed Thomas’s overwhelming affirmation “My Lord and my God” is as powerful a statement of faith among any of the disciples. Thomas is mistakenly known more for his supposed doubt than for his belief. But he believed as surely as all the rest. He was reconciled to the Lord as surely as anyone.
What strikes me this year is this: Jesus doesn’t say much, doesn’t make a philosophical case for belief in his having been raised. Instead let’s listen carefully to what is said. What we realize is doubt and fear in and through the events of the crucifixion have done emotional, spiritual and personal damage to individuals in this close community. We realize Jesus is concerned with removing the slivers of disillusionment from their pierced hearts as their fear turns cautiously toward faith.
He breathes the Holy Spirit into wounds made by the blows of doubts, failures and faults. This Spirit-infused healing will enable them to become reconciled to the Lord. And to carry a message of reconciliation, pardon to those desperately in need of forgiveness. It is the Spirit who will be guiding them, teaching them how such reconciliation and forgiveness is available to sinners in need of a savior. All this is from the depths of the One who uttered words of forgiveness as he hung dying on the cross. Jesus through the Spirit is determined to heal what is broken, especially what is broken between himself and the disciples as well as between the disciples themselves. And what is broken between himself and us and between us ourselves. And between him and a sinful world.
Again notice when he appears, he’s not covered up. Now asking Thomas to touch his wounded body, Jesus reveals a new and restored reality coming from a redemption act. Jesus’ resurrection reveals a world full of wonder and possibility, a new creation. With horrific wounds in his hands, side and body, wounds that rescued them (and us by the way), he says twice, “Peace be with you.” This is a statement a hard fought peace has been secured. “Peace be with you.” is the reality. Jesus will instruct them to extend the “wounded healer’s peace” to others. So the early Church believed, as we do today, the Risen Jesus gathered with them. The wounded healer has appeared bringing peace in the midst of doubts and fears.
In my early church experiences, the faith modeled for me was largely about gaining certainty, especially about the resurrection. All things considered, it was a good experience. However, that distant experience seems more like a series of information sessions designed to help me gain unwavering confidence. If I didn’t know what I believed, something was clearly wrong, needing to be addressed with a sense of urgency. I remember feeling unsettled at times, needing to be fixed. There was a lot at stake about being certain. There was a lot of peer pressure.
As I have gotten older, I have come to know myself – for better or worse. I have come to know a faith only and always a precious gift. I have my moments—some longer than others—of doubt and failure. And I’m no longer surprised when I feel or experience times of uncertainty. My life has always had ways of challenging settled and certain faith. Merely living everyday can stir up the “pushed down” doubts lurking just beneath the surface, waiting to erupt.
The Gospels now picture for me faith’s certainty coming and going, balancing failures with spiritual growth. And that’s where the crucifixion/resurrection comes to bear down on my life. Like Thomas, it seems to me resurrection faith recognizes and embraces struggles, challenges, and doubts as normal and expected. When I reflect over the course of my life, I have lived in some relationships I now know were not life giving. Some were always on the brink of dissolving sometimes because of my faults, sometimes no fault of my own. So I have experienced tensions, frustrations and sadness at times in my life. Not knowing how to negotiate the present, let alone the future.
Over the years, for times too many to count, I keep returning to the final sentences in our Gospel reading. So let’s read them again. Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in his name (vs. 30-31). What do these sentences have to do with us? Much in many ways.
Those terrified men and women of first-century Palestine experienced Jesus raised from the dead. Someone they could see. Reality they would never forget. Reality that would sustain them through long years of ministry. They were to become ambassadors for Christ. Standing in the place of Christ, making this appeal: Be reconciled to God. In his death and resurrection, Jesus has bent his knee to be made sin for us so that the one who believes might be reconciled to God. And filling out Thomas’ theology “My Lord and My God has ransomed me by his wounds”!
Standing in this soon to be unlocked room, standing in the place of Christ, they illustrate the household of faith is the only place where life’s wounded are to be cared for, not written off, because of faults and doubts. And like Thomas, who “reconciled” with the disciples, I have learned it has helped considerably to join myself with others who hang on to their faith and hang in with their lack of faith, their doubts. I am, like many, compromised, secretive, sinful and most desperately in need of forgiveness, reconciliation and gratefulness.
So this second of eight weeks of Eastertide should bring us to Easter resurrection not as a day but as an ongoing part of being a disciple in community. And like Thomas, I give thanks clothed in Jesus’ forgiveness for the wounded hands rescuing me from places I have fallen. For he says “Peace be with you”. This, at least in part, is what Resurrection is about. No doubt.