Have you been following the #BigRead 2012 series? Today uses the last section of Tom Wright’s book ‘Lent for Everyone’. The Bible reading is John 20: 19 – 31. It begins with the risen Jesus meeting his disciples in an upper room, breathing the Holy Spirit on them and commissioning them for mission. It ends with Thomas’s declaration of faith and a restatement of the purpose of John’s gospel – that you may believe in Jesus and find Life.
I’m interrupting my series on ‘Women of the Gospels’ because I’ve been asked to post on this reading. No woman is mentioned. Does this mean no women were present? I think women probably were present. It’s worth remembering that the word ‘disciples’ in the gospels included larger mixed groups than the central core of ‘the Twelve’ male disciples. Only one of them, Thomas, is mentioned by name in John 20: 19 – 31. People remember him for his doubt. I think he’s mentioned because of his faith.
Ancient Chinese Proverb
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”
Can you apply this well-known aphorism to the gospel? Yes and no. Especially in John’s gospel to ‘hear’ or to ‘see’ means more than hearing with the ears or seeing with the eyes. It means believing in a way that changes what you do. The understanding at heart level comes in the doing what Jesus tells us to do.
‘I hear and I forget’.
Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples had heard Jesus speaking of his dying and rising. They didn’t understand the bit about resurrection, so did they forget it or simply not believe that such a thing was possible? So when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead they were totally unprepared.
‘I see and I remember’.
Once the disciples saw with their own eyes Jesus calling Lazarus out of his tomb they couldn’t forget that, even if they did not understand what was going on.
‘I do and I understand’.
What did Thomas do? He sensibly asked for evidence. He wanted to see and feel the nail and spear marks for himself. He had heard what the others told him, that they had ‘seen the Lord’, but didn’t believe them. Why should he? He knew Jesus had died and been buried. Then when Jesus again appeared when Thomas was present and Jesus invited him to touch and see the wounds, what did Thomas do?
Much Christian art, like the famous painting ‘The Incredulity of St Thomas’ by Caravaggio shows Thomas putting his finger in the wound in Jesus’ side. The gospel writer doesn’t tell us Thomas did that. It only tells us that Jesus invited him to do so. What we know Thomas did was to make a remarkable declaration of faith. As Tom Wright expresses it,
“Thomas leap-frogs over all the others, from radical doubt to robust faith”.
Thomas said to Jeus, ‘My Lord and my God’. Now he understood the Living Word of God lived in human form in Jesus.
Hearing, Seeing and Doing
I think doubt is a close companion to faith. People come to faith in different ways, but the route usually includes hearing, seeing and doing. We might think if we could have Thomas’s experience, to see and hear Jesus for ourselves – then we’d be able to believe with absolute certainty. But certainty, along with fear, is the opposite of faith. Jesus said,
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20: 29 NRSV)
Believing is more about doing what we say we believe, than assenting to a set of propositions.
It means living the life of faith in Jesus, receiving from him through the Holy Spirit and being sent out in mission.