2nd Sunday of Easter – April 7, 2013- Belief Without Seeing- Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Second Sunday of Easter
April 7, 2013
Belief without Seeing
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
When you are on the ferry to Seattle, often enough a cloud may hide the distant south, or maybe it is just rain—lots of it—or fog, even perhaps darkness without the moon; you might ask a fellow ferry rider where to look for Mount Rainier. I suppose that such a person would point in a general southerly direction. And you might say, “I do not see such a mountain. You are pulling my leg; it’s not there.”
You and I, we are wired to believe only what we see for ourselves. Show me, we say, I am from Missouri. Let me see it. Only when I see it for myself, will Mount Rainier exist. Even though you claim to know from experience, I remain a skeptic. I don’t see it, so it’s not there! The apostle Thomas declared in this fashion that, for himself, he alone would be the arbiter of belief.
Why did the apostles believe in our Lord’s resurrection from the dead? Why should you and I believe in Christ’s resurrection from the dead? We have several reasons for believing.
Jesus invites us to examine with sight and touch. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” With touch and sight, we are asked to recognize our Lord’s risen reality! Thomas demanded that he see and touch for himself. Thomas’ demand is one good reason for us to believe.
Peter and the apostle John see the empty tomb, just as the women had said a few minutes before. They run there, early in the morning, before the site can be contaminated by wayward visitors. Although they knew that their friends had laid the corpse of Jesus here on Friday, these two apostles discover a vacant ledge containing no corpse, no body, but only a facial linen. Their experience verifies the women’s statements. So Peter and John suggest a reason for us to believe in the resurrection.
Magdalene hears Jesus call her name, “Mary.” And she responds to Him, “Rabboni,” then grabs his legs. In touching and seeing, and in hearing the Lord, Mary Magdalene offers further reason for our believing.
Besides, the Apostles together witness Jesus among them. They see Him. And they hear Jesus speak: “Peace be with you.” And these apostles feel a glad thrill run through them. And they feel Jesus deliberately breathing on them with warm air from His lungs, and they experience a surge of confidence as Jesus commissions them, bestows the Holy Spirit on them and sends them to forgive sin. Hearing His words and feeling His breath, and encountering Him—person to person—and realizing Him as present—all of this offers reason for our believing.
Perhaps you have spoken to a parent or to an adult son or daughter on the telephone, even communicated by texting or by email. These offer contemporary modes of interacting. But on occasion you want to visit your friend or relative. “I gotta go,” you tell yourself. “I gotta be there with him or her, physically seeing and touching and talking and breathing the same air.” In the Irish song, “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” this sense of longing to be physically present weaves through the lyrics. Roses have left Kathleen’s cheek, her voice is sad, and tears dim her eyes, all of this because Kathleen suffers physical separation from her relatives and from her ancestral home. In the song, Kathleen yearns to be physically present.
The Apostles realized the physical presence of the risen Jesus, and this physical presence offers further reason for our believing in Jesus’ resurrection.
How does it happen that the apostle Thomas cannot accept the assurance given by the other apostles? “The other disciples said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’” That powerful expression ought to have convinced Thomas. After all, these people he knew well. With them, Thomas had lived three years, and with them Thomas had experienced a variety of Christ’s talks and of Christ’s signs; with them Thomas had suffered the oppression of the Scribes and Pharisees, and with them Thomas had seen the Master arrested and even put to death. Surely, Thomas could trust these fellow apostles. We accept the word of family members and of people whom we well know. But Thomas declares his famous disbelief. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
That declaration has become the famous expression of refusal to have faith. Such famous doubt prepares for turnabout when Jesus appears to these same apostles one week later. Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas is overwhelmed, answering, “My Lord and my God.” Hearing and seeing and touching—all these become irrelevant to Thomas. The physical presence of his Lord crushes the prideful demands of Thomas. His need that he himself see and personally touch the Lord sinks into watery disposal. If you saw a ghost, you would react and be astonished; harsh moments of realism jerk us to sudden realization. Such shocked reaction of abasement offers us a further reason for believing.
“Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Blessed, a blessing from Jesus Christ Himself is a further reason for believing. Besides, because the Apostles believe in the risen Jesus and tell that to Thomas, we have a further reason for believing. And His coming into the room despite locked doors again manifests power and offers a reason for believing. And the exercise of Jesus’s own power in rising presents a further reason for believing.
These signs “are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” Amen.