Revd James Merrick
This morning, I want briefly to call your attention an often overlooked aspect of the story about doubting Thomas. This narrative is often used to talk about the relationship between faith and doubt or how Jesus’s resurrection cannot be read simply as the disciples metaphor for their realization of Jesus’s continuing significance, that the resurrection for the disciples was very much a physical thing, that they really saw Jesus raised from the dead and touched him with their hands. All that is well and good and important.
But I want to note that there is an interesting connection in this passage. And that connection is the one between Jesus’s statement that those who do not have the opportunity to see and touch his resurrected body and yet still believe are blessed and John’s seemingly unrelated comment that the record we have of Jesus’s deeds and words was written so that we would believe. Let me just read that portion again so it is fresh in our minds:
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
What is the connection? The connection is simply this: That those who have not seen Jesus and yet come to believe are those who believe on the basis of what was written down in the Gospel of John.
For the Evangelist after which our church is named, the doubting Thomas incident is not so much about faith and doubt, as it is about how Jesus is manifest to believers without being physically present. And for John, the resurrected Christ is manifest in Holy Scripture. Immediately after recording Jesus saying ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’, John explains that he has written his book so that ‘you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name’. For John, the place where we go to find Jesus, to test our doubts and to fuel our faith, is Scripture.
Though Jesus is not physically present in his person to each one of us, he is present in Scripture, and, as he says in this passage, there is a certain blessedness that accompanies those who believe in him through the words of Scripture. We cannot touch Jesus’s wounds or behold the contours of his face, but we can encounter him in faith by reading Scripture. How might we believe in this Jesus whom we have never seen? John says that Scripture was written so that we might believe. Scripture is where we go to find and have faith in Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but this a hard thing to accept. I’ve confessed before how there are times when I would rather preach on a compelling novel than the lectionary readings. And I confess today that I often find reading Scripture more alienating or confusing than helpful or encouraging. Scripture is an odd book. It takes time and careful study to even begin to understand what’s going on. I’m sure you’ve read passages and just felt, as have I, that the concerns and questions of the writer are so foreign and far from your own that not only is the Bible not helpful for addressing your questions, but that the writer doesn’t strike you as credible, that he is not really dealing with the real questions.
Scripture is difficult. It would seem that our faith would be a lot stronger if God would have given us a more comprehensive, coherent, and understandable book, if not just be obviously present. But I have to believe that there is something about the weakness of Scripture that is fitting to the God whose power and victory is displayed in the cross of Jesus Christ. Maybe the weakness of Scripture is like the homelessness and poverty of Jesus Christ, his humiliation during his trial and crucifixion. Maybe Scripture’s appearance as positively human, ordinary and not divine is akin to the plainness of Jesus, to his utter dissimilarity to the King and Lord he was supposed to be.
I have to wonder, therefore, whether the times I feel eager to dismiss Scripture as inadequate or primitive are the times I most resemble those who put Jesus to death. I have to ask whether those times are ones in which I am rather arrogant and entirely too comfortable with contemporary understandings of power and proof. Perhaps my rejection of Scripture says more about me, about my rejection of weakness and poverty, about my lust for power and confidence, than it does about Scripture. Perhaps God has given us such a weak book because only the humble have the ears to hear it. Perhaps, as with Christ, the power of Scripture is not overwhelming and obvious, but subtle, delicate, fragile, mysterious, unseen.
Scripture has been written so that we may believe. Scripture is where we go to behold and touch Jesus, to have our doubts and fears eased, to have our faith upheld and nourished. Yet Scripture is a discipline, it requires care and patience. Above all, it demands from us humility, the kind of humility that rejects the ease of power and embraces the tenderness of weakness, and so Scripture must be read in a spirit of prayer, a prayer that asks to hear Jesus’s voice greet us ‘Peace be with you’.
Veni Sancte Spiritus.