12 Apr 2015
“‘Have you believed because you have seen me?’” (John 20:21) In the name …
Today’s Gospel is about spiritual blindness. I’ll start where today’s Gospel starts. Mary Magdalene is outside the tomb crying, and they’re not tears of resurrection joy. When she is startled by the approach of an unknown man, she assumes that he is the gardener or the caretaker. She doesn’t ask him if he saw the resurrection. Mary asks if he knows where Jesus’ dead body has been moved. And Mary’s doubt was in the direct presence of the risen Lord. By the end of today’s Gospel, we’re hearing the story of Thomas, now forevermore known as Doubting Thomas. He refuses to believe in the resurrection based on the second-hand information of his fellow disciples. He’s the poster boy for the “seeing is believing” argument.
We tend to think of the visual as our strongest sensation, and it’s definitely powerful. This past week, as an example, I’m driving by Cowls Lumber in North Amherst. Out of the corner of my eye, while I’m not even paying attention, while I’m trying to drive, I catch a glimpse of a huge picture of Bob Halla. His picture is plastered on the back of one of their delivery trucks parked in their yard. I wasn’t even looking in that direction. I definitely wasn’t expecting to see an even bigger picture of Big Bob Halla, but without even thinking about it, the visual part of my brain said, “Hey, did you just see that?” But for as powerful as the visual is, it didn’t help Mary Magdalene see the resurrection and Jesus is going to make absolutely sure that Thomas knows faith has nothing to do with “seeing is believing.”
Spiritual blindness, however, does not end with these two Gospel stories. The resurrection of Jesus is not only a promise of eternal life. The resurrection is about this life renewed. Jesus of Nazareth came into our world preaching a radical message of transformation. Logic would be upended. Fairness would be seen as inadequate. Jesus would preach and practice a gospel message of preemptive morality. His followers could not only react to the actions of others. They had to set the stage. This is why Jesus would preach the illogical message of not only love your neighbour because they love you, but also love your enemy. This is simply illogical, but this is simply Christian morality. The cross makes this absolutely clear.
The cross also makes clear that the charge tacked to it by Pilate was about Jesus’ politics. He was crucified as “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” Jesus preached and practiced a gospel message against top-down power, against the abuses of wealth’s influence. Jesus insisted that His followers care about ideas like mercy and compassion, and not only for their own loved ones, but for the weakest, poorest and marginalized. In a world where we lose nothing by avoiding these people, Jesus said they must be our priority. Again, with that charge above His head, the cross makes this absolutely clear too.
Then comes Easter. The tomb is empty. That was last Sunday’s message. Today we finally encounter the resurrected Saviour. The resurrection is God’s almighty testimony of Jesus’ authenticity. When Jesus resurrected, everything that He said and did was vindicated and validated by God. It wasn’t only Jesus’ body that was glorified; it was also His message. The resurrection is God’s proof that all of those wondrous but illogical and impractical teachings and examples of Jesus were not only aspirations of what could be when we left this world behind and entered into God’s perfect heavenly world. The resurrection says that they are accomplished already. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have accomplished the establishment of God’s kingdom in our world. They are a reality that God already sees, and this is where the message of spiritual blindness continues from the pages of the Bible and into our own day and age because we too often act as if we don’t see His kingdom.
We are a resurrection people. We believe that Jesus walked out of the tomb alive again. We believe that He is here right now, and that’s why we’re here. But to the degree that we can’t see Jesus’ kingdom, we can’t see Jesus either. Jesus was standing right in front of Mary Magdalene and she didn’t recognize Him. The gospel message is just as clear and yet we still find it hard to believe and to practice. [Westfield restaurant with So. CA family and eating healthy] Mary finally saw Jesus when He said her name. At that very moment the reality of the resurrection rushed over her. With the sound of His voice calling to her, the entire relationship that Mary had built with Jesus during His lifetime was immediately renewed. It wasn’t “seeing is believing.” It was relationship that made Easter real, the same kind of relationship offered to us.
Poor Thomas makes one really big mistake and it can’t ever be forgotten. James and John, two other disciples asked for power in the kingdom of God, but that’s not what they’re remembered for. Peter was rebuked with the words “Get behind me Satan,” but that’s not what he’s remembered for. But poor Thomas, his mistake is used as a lesson for all future generation on what we can’t expect or do. Thomas insisted on the proof of “seeing is believing.” And then when the proof is granted, Thomas is ashamed. “My Lord and my God,” says a shocked Thomas. But Jesus is unimpressed with his overdue statement of belief. To Thomas the resurrected Jesus answers, “‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’” (20:29) Those words aren’t meant as much for Thomas as they are for us. We have to be different than Doubting Thomas. And that means we have to beware of the spiritual blindness that will not see the kingdom of God around us. Easter isn’t only about heaven. It’s about now. Let us pray that the relationship we’re building with Christ lets us see how the kingdom of God is already accomplished and how we can be a part of it by living His gospel. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo