Scots Church Adelaide
That you may have life!

Reading: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.' After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, ‘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.' 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.' Then 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.' Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.

Highlights in this week's gospel.

The NRSV mistranslates the words "After one week." It is literally "after eight days." While this is essentially one week later it misses the nuance of John's words. The eighth day was the day of church. The early church often met very early on the Sunday, before the slaves had to be back preparing for the household's awakening. There was an "eighth day" for worship. There is also the fact that this reading is about the beginning on the church. He breathes the Holy Spiriti upon them in the Johannine Pentecost. Is it too much to say that God created the world in seven days, and on the eighth day God created the church?

There is a political challenge to the empire as the church is founded. Thomas says, " My Lord and My God!"which is arguably the highest acclamation of Jesus in the whole Gospel. John is probably written around the time of the emperor Domitian. He was referred to as dominus et deus noster, "the lord and god of us." Thomas is saying that Jesus is Lord and God, not the emperor.

John Petty notes the following:

"Put your finger here and see my hands," says Jesus. Jesus does not say to touch his hands, but to see them. (To "see"--to "get it"--is a synonym for "faith" in the fourth gospel.)

Read it again- Thomas never does actually touch Jesus: Then 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.' Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me?

Jesus shows the disciples his scars when he appears. We often take this as a sign that he is really Jesus, and not some apparition. He is physical. We especially bring this interpretation from Luke 24:40 But I think there is more involved. It is saying to us that we can only meet a crucified Christ. Don't look for an easy faith and a beautiful Jesus. The Jesus we meet is one... full of love.... but a Jesus who is scarred. If we wish to meet and know and follow him, we must risk some of those scars. If we want to have a safe faith, we may not meet him.

 

The key point of this reading for me, is that in John we meet the resurrected Jesus in the community of the church. It is in the gathered community that he becomes real. The doors are shut. There is no way in. But Jesus appears there among them. The church is afraid. It is doubtful, even unbelieving. But it is gathered together, and he is there.

It is worth considering what we do with literature, and story, and truth, in our society. We are in many ways illiterate; poor in our discernment of the nature of what we read. So people tour Europe, visiting the sites of The DaVinci Code, somehow missing the point that it is fiction! Urban Myths are usually readily identifiable, yet many people take them as gospel when they arrive in their InBox. We tend to read everything as though it was a literal factual description, like the articles in our newspapers. (Yes, I am trying to be ironic here!)

Despite this, we do recognise there are differences between story types. We understand jokes are jokes. We are able to look at a movie when someone transmigrates through solid rock, and say that it's not true and it doesn't happen in real life. We do recognise fiction.

The question is whether we can recognise Gospel as a story form. John is nothing like a newspaper report. As one of my friends says, "If John is literal reporting, then they were totally weird, or on weed." Mark's gospel looks more like reportage, but careful reading shows it too, is not reportage. it is laden with carefully crafted irony. It is Gospel; not fiction, and not literal fact. (It also challenges us to find it true.)

In any other story, if the doors were locked, and someone appeared in the midst of the meeting, especially if we knew they were dead, we would say, "That sort of thing does not happen!" So why would we insist that we read John differently?

For sure, the church has largely thought that physical resurrection did happen in this one case. It is eminently arguable that some of the gospel authors thought the same; certainly Luke did. But if I read this book of John, with what I know to be true and possible, a physical resurrection of Jesus seems very unlikely. Maybe it happened, but I'm not going to the wall for it, making it the cornerstone of my faith in Jesus the Christ. I reckon that John is making the point that what is happening with Jesus is beyond the physical. If we get hung up on the physical, we miss the point.

I asked a congregation once during a sermon what they thought John might be wanting us to understand, when he said that the doors were locked, but Jesus appeared anyway. Notice how he repeats this; he is making a point.

We had no hesitation answering that question when I was a kid in the sixties. But now, forty years later, there was silence in the church; there is an elephant in the room with Jesus! Eventually a teenage kid up the back stuck his hand up. His dad flinched, and his mum did that eye rolling "Oh, no, what will he say this time?" thing. He said, "I reckon it means... he must have come in through the window!" The outburst of laughter said it all; we don't really believe this stuff.

But what about the notion that when the church meets, Jesus is found in its midst? What about the idea that if we live out the faith, even when we haven't seen him, (that's all of us,) then we will see him. And what about the idea that if we live out the faith, even when we are very doubtful, then he will appear to us. Thomas, despite all his doubts, still came to church on the eighth day.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.

We characteristically confuse belief and faith in our culture. Belief means to accept a proposition as literally true. Faith, said someone, is to accept as true something that's not! The Gospel text is ambiguous. It uses the Greek word pistos, which has has overtones of both faith and belief. The last verses could could be translated

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through faith you may have life in his name.

Faith is not belief in something that is not true. Faith is to take the story seriously, and disciple ourselves on Jesus. In the community of the church, we will then meet the resurrected Lord. And find life.

Andrew
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

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