The year was around 110 CE. The John who was with Jesus was already dead and the Gospel was written probably by those whom he taught. What was happening? The world was around eighty years removed from the Resurrection. People were beginning to doubt not only the Resurrection, but also the words that Jesus spoke. There were very few individuals who could read, so the only way they could find out about Jesus was orally. If there was a Gospel, it had to be read to them.
So in the process of writing the Gospel according to John, some symbol or story was constructed to bring the reality of the Resurrection to those who were beginning to doubt. Please remember that the Gospel writers used Jewish ways of writing and interpretation to get their ideas across. It was called Midrash. Never meant to be interpreted literally, but meant to explain to the people the heart and soul of what it meant that Jesus was now in God’s presence. Not a physical Resurrection, not an ascension, but a becoming a part of God, Jesus being raised into God’s presence.
So we have the story of Thomas – Thomas who was not there when Jesus first appeared to the disciples in a room. Doubting Thomas – the epitome of those who at that time in history were beginning to doubt.
Jesus appears a second time. But the story isn’t about Thomas physically putting his hand into the side of Jesus or seeing the imprints of the nails on his palms. The story is about faith.
This portion, from the Gospel According to John, was written so that ages yet to come and those who had not experienced the Resurrected Jesus would read these words and believe.
The words, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!” call out to us over the centuries as much as they did to the early Christians, sending the message that when all is said and done, it was and is still a matter of faith.
Why is faith so important to us and so difficult to grasp or maintain? Probably because it requires us to believe in something that we have not seen and do not understand, but are still called to believe. That was the problem of the early Christians. They knew that Jesus lived, but they did not know how. It was incomprehensible to them. So their human, finite minds sought to explain the event we call the Resurrection in the only ways that they knew how – by relating the life of Jesus to the lives of other great characters in Jewish history. And by creating stories around what they knew, to try and explain something that they did not understand and could explain no other way.
One theologian calls it the “leap of faith.” If we are to believe in God whom we cannot see, have not heard, and have not touched, then we are required to believe by faith and take what amounts to a great leap over a chasm, somehow believing either that we will be caught if we fall, or that we will make it to the other side.
In the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Search for the Holy GraiI,” Indiana rescues his father from the Nazis and the two of them search for the Holy Grail. The grail was located in a mountainside temple. In order to reach the cup, Indiana had to undergo three challenges: the Breath of God, the Word of God, and the Path of God. During the third challenge, he faces a great chasm. He remembers the clue: “jump to the lion’s head.” He sees a rock outcropping on the other side of the chasm, but there is no way that he can jump across the chasm. He figures that all of the other clues have been accurate, so he jumps and lands on an invisible bridge over the chasm.
When he finds the room in which the Grail is located, he must fight and overcome the Guardian of the Grail. Then he must choose the correct Grail from a table full of chalices. He picks an ordinary looking chalice and it is the correct one. Had he picked the wrong one, he would have aged quickly and died.
Aren’t those three challenges like our journey of faith? First we are brought to life by the breath of God. We find out more about God by reading the Bible which we call God’s Word. Finally, we are challenged to walk the path of God. The hardest challenge? The path! For in being challenged to walk the path of God, we can encounter many other challenges that can often lead us astray or lead us to follow another path that is not the path that God would have us choose.
The leap of faith – isn't that what faith is like. It’s sort of like the leap that Indiana Jones was asked to take solely based on his faith in what he had been told. There are many times when we must choose a path, choose to take the first step. There are times when we might get angry because we don’t want to take that step. There are times when we are afraid to take the first step, especially into unknown territory. There are times when our knees shake and our hearts pound. But when we finally make a commitment, we know that we have taken a stance. We may never know why our faith works or how we have forged a relationship with God. We just know that it works.
The writer of John had to find some way to explain Jesus to generations of his time that had not seen him, and to future generations. The words that Jesus spoke to Thomas are still relevant to us. We have not seen Jesus; we will not experience the physical Christ; yet there is something that tells us that Jesus is real; Jesus is resurrected into God’s presence; and we believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us always.
How do we find out if we are right or not? How do we know that God is with us? How do we know that Jesus loves us and still supports us? If we are looking for concrete proof to which we can point, forget it. The best way we can know is through the experiences that others have had because of their faith in God. The rescues by people who then can never be found again when the victims want to express their thanks; the food that always seems to be enough and isn’t used up; the stranger at the door, and when we go to find the person, there are no footprints in the snow; the person who helps; all of these are experiences that somehow link us to the supernatural – the world beyond.
If we expect the types of experiences that the early disciples had, it will not happen. We have a much greater understanding of science, medicine, technology, and the workings of the human brain that will help us explain what happened in those early stories, and help us explain many things that happen today. Yet there are still mysteries of life for which we have no explanation.
The proof or assurance we seek will come to each of us in its own way and in its own time. There will come a time when we each say, “I just know, I just believe.” It will be at that moment when our faith becomes the strongest. Not dependent on whether only good things happen to us; not dependent upon whether the outcomes we want occur; not dependent on our explanation, but on the finger of God touching our hearts.
There was a time when I searched and searched for the historical Jesus. I wanted proof. I wanted to see something else that had been written regarding the life and teachings of Jesus. But it isn’t out there, and what was available, was so sketchy it couldn’t provide the proof I wanted either. Albert Schweitzer couldn’t find it. Other theologians who have searched for it couldn’t find it. But all of them have come to the same conclusion. Faith is not a matter for proof; faith is a matter of the heart; and when God touches our hearts, we just know it, and we are never the same. Amen.