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Reflections on the Gospel, April 7 2013

John 20:19-31

19When 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.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.”

26A 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 I am Learning:

There are many themes in this wonderful and often misunderstood text.

Jesus appears to his disciples who are locked in a room, hiding out for fear of the Judean leadership - selected by and working for Pontius Pilate. They were afraid that these leaders would finish the job and mop up the rest of Jesus' pathetic band of followers. They were right to be afraid!

Then Jesus shows up in the locked room. How many times have we been locked up for fear? Jesus greets them, announces that he comes in peace, that their failures and trials of the last few days are over and forgiven. And then he gives them a job: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." We are now invited to go back and read all of John, and to realize that everything that Jesus did we are now invited to do. Jesus begins his messianic community with these words - and of course with the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus' breath. Jesus as the messiah has only just begun his work to restore human beings and human community to God's intention and to create a future of wholeness for people and all creation. Jesus invites his disciples to join him, and that in this joining we will find ourselves.

Then we come to Thomas. People often say bad things about Thomas, but I say good on him for speaking his mind. That takes guts.

People often speak of the miracle of Jesus' appearance in the locked room. But there is a deeper miracle here: that Thomas was still with the community a week after he didn't believe them. The community didn't kick him to the curb. He didn't leave. This is no authoritarian community in which if you doubt you're out. They had the courage and love to realize that they had doubts, too.

Doubt and faith are not opposites. Faith and certitude are opposites. Faith is born in the chorus of doubt and risk that sing to us day and night - yet find ourselves trusting nonetheless in a God who promises healing for all.  As Andy, a Lutheran pastor said this morning, doubt sharpens faith.

John hopes that in the hearing of this story that we come to believe - that we come to trust in Jesus the messiah and find our place as a beloved coworker with Christ in the reign of God.