“Seeing is believing.”
Those three words have traveled together for years. And, who knows, perhaps the expression was born through the ultimatum of Doubting 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,” Doubting Thomas tells the disciples after their tale of Jesus’ appearance in the house where they met.
Thomas definitely doubted.
But what of those shut and locked doors behind which the disciples cowered, fearing for their very lives? Before Jesus appeared to them the first time, weren’t all of the disciples doubters? If they really believed what Mary Magdalene told them about seeing Jesus resurrected in the garden they surely would have been out preaching the good news. We know that’s true because once the disciples did come to believe in the resurrection that is exactly what they did, risking their own lives to preach that message. But until then they hid behind the closed and locked doors of doubt.
And what does Jesus do?
Jesus walks right through those doors anyway. Twice. First, when he came to the disciples at the time when Thomas was gone. And then again when Thomas was there. Jesus came to the disciples and to Thomas, just as he comes to us, even if the door is locked.
But I wonder why Thomas wasn’t there the first time. Perhaps he was out, risking his life doing the Lord’s work, less afraid than the others, not staying cowering in that room even though he faced the same dangers.
And it isn’t too big a stretch to believe that Jesus knew Thomas wasn’t there before his first appearance to the disciples. Jesus could have waited, certainly, until Thomas returned from whatever it was he was doing.
The fact that Jesus came anyway raises an interesting possibility.
Perhaps Jesus’ second appearance wasn’t simply for Thomas alone, but was a reiteration of the risen truth, a re-appearance also for the other disciples who, despite their first resurrection encounter with Jesus, remained behind those closed doors.
But Thomas and the other doubting disciples weren’t the sole beneficiaries of that second appearance through those closed doors.
Perhaps that second appearance was also very much, in fact, for us.
Thomas was called the Twin. Might we not be, from time to time, the twin of Doubting Thomas? Despite our faith, there may be times when we also yearn for some tangible sign. Some literal encounter with the risen Christ that will free us of all doubt (but also deprive us of faith).
But, human nature being what it is, even if that were to happen many of us would find it hard to believe our eyes. We might doubt our own senses. If not immediately, then some day. How could that really have happened, we’d ask ourselves? And, soon enough, we might be doubters again, just like the disciples, for whom one appearance of the risen Lord wasn’t enough.
Our doors shut.
And our doors locked.
Yes, the more I contemplate this Gospel lesson the more I believe that the second appearance of Jesus was just as much for us as it was for Thomas. It gave Jesus a chance to make this point:
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” he tells Thomas, but also every other disciple in that room.
And “those” whom Jesus counts as especially “blessed” are you and me. Each one of us has come to believe, even though we have not seen the Lord.
Thanks to Doubting Thomas and his doubting colleagues, then, we receive a blessing directly from Jesus, right there in the Gospel of John.
A blessing that no door can stop, even if we shut and lock it ourselves.
“Seeing is believing.”