Saturday, March 26, 2016

Blessed are you who have not seen

The Second Sunday of Easter features one of our favorite disciples, Thomas the No-Show.  He was assumedly there with all the other disciples on Easter morning, but by evening apparently had decided he had better things to do, so he was not present when Jesus made his first post-resurrection appearance in the Upper Room.  John 20:19-31 gives us the account.  Many commentators have noted that this story is evidence of the new reality for the first century church: most believers are "those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."  Are they blessed or not?  That is the question.

(The following questions explore some of the issues for Law/Gospel preachers.  For a more complete look at this genre of preaching, see my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus is appearing and granting the Spirit and the peace of the Risen Christ to all present.  This is pure Gospel.  Jesus comes to us beyond our closed doors, our locked hearts, our despairing minds, and jars us into faith.  This is God's doing!  We come to faith, by grace.  There is also a word of Law here, a word that shows us how much we need this impolite Christ. This word of Law is encapsulated in the words of Thomas:  "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." (Note that the original construction is "strong future denial", strictly translated, "I will by no means believe!").

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?   It might be an interesting exercise to identify at first with the disciples who are present at Jesus' appearing, and then with Thomas who was not.  Try reading the text as though you were one of these parties, for example, verse 19:  "... and the doors of the house where [we] had met were locked for fear of the Jews, but Jesus came and stood among [us]."  When we identify with different parties we are given a different ear for the story.  As always, we preachers do well to avoid identifying with Jesus.

3.   What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  It is tempting to see a call to faith as a call to obedience, but they are never the same thing.  Faith is not something we are called to - it is something given to us by the Spirit of the Risen Christ. Jesus' words and signs, as John says, are written down so that we may come to believe.  Is there a call to obedience - a word to follow Jesus - in this text?  I do not think so. We do well to find that in our accompanying texts.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Couplets come readily to mind with this story:  doubt/faith; absent/present; fearful/peace-filled; lifeless/breathed on by Christ.

5.  Exegetical work:  Sometimes it's interesting just to look at how different translations handle a particular saying of Jesus.  This text is a case in point.  Look at how different translations handle verse 27c: Be not faithless, but believing (KJV); Don't be faithless any longer. Believe! (LB); Stop your doubting. (TEV); Doubt no longer but believe. (JB); Be unbelieving no longer. (NEB); Do not be faithless, but believing. (RSV); You must not doubt, but believe. (PH).  What some of these translations recognize better than others is that this is a present imperative prohibition, which is to say, this is a command to cease doing something that is presently in progress.  Doubt is ongoing; that's what this statement says.  We are commanded to stop doubting and start believing.  It is an ongoing state.  Another helpful exercise with this text may be to look at the way the word "blessed" is used in the scriptures. We are all familiar with the Beatitudes, but in looking further we will see that blessedness has many aspects.  Not being able to see the actual actions of Jesus, nor to hear his actual words spoken, are just two sorts of blessedness.

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  I like how Bruce Martin, writing under 2013 Year C Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter, diagnoses the law within this text.  He calls it Fear Unto Death, showing how in the text the disciples were first afraid of the Jews, then of death, and finally of God.  His prognosis gives us the Gospel:  Jesus brings Resurrection Peace and forgiveness, which finally leads us into forgiving, rather than fearing others.  Well done. Go to study for the complete analysis.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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