Beyond What You Can See
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Faith is always difficult. That may seem a radical statement to a believer, but the evidence that it is so is intimately familiar to us. Today’s verse refers to the encounter between the apostle Thomas and Jesus when Jesus has appeared before the disciples hiding in the upper room for a second time after His resurrection. Remember, Thomas had not been there on the first occasion and would not believe his friends when they told him of having seen Jesus. Thomas responded to them saying, “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.” (verse 25)
Thomas represents a very recognizable to modern ears. Today many refuse to believe because the existence of God cannot be “proven” by any material, scientific or mathematical means. Human beings have always struggled with this though. It is in our nature to doubt what we cannot see or touch. We want proofs before we will agree to anything, especially anything that we perceive to be risky, dangerous, or that might challenge us to go our of our comfort zones. Thomas, like the others, had been with Jesus for three years. He had seen all of the miracles that Jesus had performed. He had listened to Jesus’ every word. He knew Jesus and believed in him and even put his hope in him, just like all of the others. But what they had encountered from the time of Jesus’ arrest shaken every one of them to the core. All of the disciples would be tested in the matter of their faith in Jesus, but Thomas speaks for many when he says that he will not believe in the resurrection unless he can personally see and touch the very wounds of the cross.
The Late Medieval monk, Thomas à Kempis, wrote of this phenomenon in his spiritual classic, The Imitation of Christ: “There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity. He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion. Many are awed by his miracles, few accept the shame of his cross…” Though Thomas doubted, in the end, he would be listed among those who would go all the way in faith. He, along with the others, would be among the “few” who would, in faith, choose willingly to share in Christ’s passion. And because of that faith, he and the others would bring many to God through their ministry and through their sufferings, and through their own martyrdoms. We, today, are those who have not “seen,” yet, we are expected to faithfully carry on the mission today.
Thomas and the others had the unimaginable gift of actually being in the presence of Christ, of knowing him in the flesh. He had looked them in the eyes, he knew the tenor of his voice. He had even felt Jesus’ embrace and saw his miracles. But the Cross! This was not what they had had in mind concerning Jesus. They were smack up against the truth here. You cannot have the Resurrection without the Cross. Only a few days before the mother of James and John had asked Jesus if her two sons could sit, one on his right and the other on his left, in his kingdom. And Jesus asked them, “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” Of course, they responded in the affirmative because for them the question and the response were still in the abstract, not in the realm of reality. Our faith is in something far greater than mere abstract ideas. Our belief in God must be real, practical and efficacious in this real world. And, in reality, our faith requires us to bear the cross along with the blessings.
Jesus’ appearance in the upper room a second time was not just for Thomas’ sake. It was for our sake today as well. What he says to Thomas was as important, true, and challenging to him as it is to us today. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We believe, though we have not had the experience of “seeing,” or “touching,” or “hearing” Jesus that the disciples had. We believe because we have “seen” with our hearts, rather than with our eyes. We believe, more importantly, because God has given us the graceful gift of faith. Jesus himself told Peter that faith does not come from “flesh and blood”, but from “my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17) Our faith is part of a true relationship. On the one side, it is a generous gift from God. And, when we accept that gift willingly, it takes root in us and we begin to affirm it in our daily lives. Faith, then, is a dynamic dialogue between our souls and God. Thanks be to our generous Father in heaven.
Jesus, we pray that you pour your generous gift of faith into us through your Holy Spirit. Strengthen us where we are weak so that we may actively live our faith for your good and for the good of others. In your name we pray, Jesus. Amen!
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