The Forgiveness of Twins
Easter 2 - Sunday April 27
Gospel: John 20:19-31
19 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.’ 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.’
24 But 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.’
26 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.’
30 Now 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.
Do you remember Lazarus? He was the one who died— Mary and Martha's brother. He had been dead for four days, which is seriously dead. Jesus raised him back to life. Thomas was there. Thomas saw it happen.
So what is the problem for Thomas? What is his problem with another person being raised from the dead? It's not even four days yet! This should be easy...
If we read the text carefully, it does not say anywhere that Jesus is "risen from the dead." Instead, he appears among them. He shows himself.
And, in particular, Mary says to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord." And the disciples say to Thomas, "We have seen the Lord." That means they have seen something of a different order than Lazarus being raised from the dead. They do not say, "We have seen Jesus"; they say, "We have seen the Lord!"
I do not mean that Jesus has not risen from the dead. ...
I mean that they are saying a great deal more than Jesus has merely risen from the dead!
It means that they are saying the risen Jesus is... the Lord!
It is a statement of faith, a statement of trust, and a statement of belief that Jesus really is the Messiah or Christ.
He is the one who is to redeem Israel (as Luke puts it 24:21).
He is the who points the way to eternal life.
He is the one who shows us God's very self because...
He and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
The resurrection of Jesus is much, much, much more than the resuscitation of a body from death.
Thomas does not doubt this resurrection— the word doubt is not there in the Greek— it's a bad translation.
Thomas simply does not believe it.
This man is no Lord.
He died the death of a criminal, executed for treason. (That's what the cross was used for.)
He was powerless in the Romans' hands, and at the hands of the Temple collaborators.
I don't care if he could do some trick with Lazarus, and some con job with the water into wine, the Messiah— God's Chosen One Who is Going To Save Us From Rome and All The Other Exiling Empires— doesn't get killed by Rome.
I don't know who he was, but that proves he was a fake or a failure. He was not the Lord; the Lord does not die like that.
I don't care if he has come back from the dead.
The way he died proves he was not who he said he was.
(We don't understand the shame of the cross in our time. We're used to it. But "for the first ten Christian centuries it was never depicted" in [art.] There were "images of Christ as shepherd, guide and healer, and of the earth as paradise once again," but no cross. An Amazon Review of Saving Paradise)
Unless I see him with my own eyes, I will not trust him. That's what believe means; it means to trust Jesus.
What is there to trust?
In this week's reading we hear, and we are called to trust, that when we meet as church "on the first day of the week" we will find Jesus among us; he came and stood among them; the text repeats the words exactly for each of the two Sundays.
We hear, and we are called to trust, that God loves us and is for us. Despite the fact that we humans kill the ones whom he sends, even Jesus, Jesus himself says "Peace be with you," three times in the reading.
We hear, and we are called to trust, that he comes through locked doors and the walls of fear. This is a resurrected body that is more than our old body. The Christ is that human being which we are called to become, not more of the same. In fact...
we hear, and we are called to trust, that Jesus sends us so that all people may have such a life in all its fullness. "I have come that I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) As the Father has sent me, so I send you. (John 21:21)
We hear, and we are called to trust, that he has given us the Holy Spirit; that is, he has promised us that as we go where we have been sent, the presence of very God is with us! God is our Advocate and Helper. (John 14 -15)
We hear, and we are called to trust, that if we forgive sins they are forgiven, and if we retain them they are retained.
In this last saying of Jesus there is a whole season of sermons! Today I have given you a handout with the sermon and this week's bible study. You will see there that the first teaching of Jesus after his resurrection is really about how to be church. And key to how to be church is how to forgive... which is not, by the way, simply saying, "It's alright." Sin is never alright.
Read the text. Dealing with our sinfulness, which ends in the forgiveness of sin is the key issue which determines whether we are truly the body of Christ, or whether our wounds are still weeping, full of pus, and we are as a congregation, in fact, no helpful witness to Christ at all. But if our wounds are healed by the forgiving of sin then, as I say in the study,
Would not a community of radical repentance and radical forgiveness be a community like no other, that would bring even a hard headed rationalist like me to say, "Here is proof of resurrection! Nowhere else is there community like this, with a love that spreads beyond an hour on Sunday into everything they do!"?
I think the living of community, and the repentance and forgiveness and healing of sin, is perhaps the most important and profound part of all the teaching in this highly compressed text. It is the part we miss in our everyday lives as church.
So all this stuff Thomas is called to trust is true is incredibly serious. It is much more than some controversial miracle about whether life after death happens, or is even possible. The people who get stuck arguing about that are not yet even on the right page.
By the time John is writing, it is sixty years after the death of Jesus. There is no doubt something has happened— some event called resurrection. Otherwise they would not be there as a community. Thomas is being asked to bet his life on this stuff. You could get killed for trusting in Jesus and bringing Jesus' message to the world. It's the same for many Christians today. Even in Australia it is not without cost.
So it's no wonder that Thomas is not going to trust all this stuff is true unless he has some really really solid evidence.
Let's talk about the names of Jesus' disciples. We know there were twelve, and John calls them The Twelve. The other three gospels, and Acts, list them off by name. John does not. He mentions only a few of them by name.
The reason is that the disciples are models of how we are to be. God accepts us all: hot headed deniers like Peter, the belovéd disciples who have special insights, the half secret, not quite getting it, but very brave disciples like Nicodemus, and the flat out rationalist hard heads like Thomas. ( I did a quick read of the names in John. When I added in Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene and Nicodemus... there are about twelve disciples who are named!)
Now, Thomas: He is called the Twin. Most names mean something. In the Gospels, the meaning of names is given to make a point. So if it says "Gwyn and Jesus pulled in the net," it just means Gwyn helped Jesus. But if it says, "Gwyn (whose name means 'Blessed') pulled in the net with Jesus," then we can be fairly sure that pulling in the net with Jesus has got something to do with being blessed.
Well, Thomas means Twin. So why does John specifically point this out? Who is Thomas a twin to? Why is that important?
Some early sects believed that Thomas was Jesus' twin brother...! And as someone has said, "That was a surprise for Matthew and Luke!
I think Thomas is our twin. We are all brothers and sisters; we often use that language. Immediately after the resurrection Jesus calls the disciples his "brothers." (John 20:17)
Thomas is our twin because we are all born together in the faith with him.
Like Thomas, we all long to see Jesus. And we can not. All Thomas wanted to do was to see him and be sure. He said, ‘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.’
Given what is at stake, that is not an unreasonable wish. And as one scholar says,
He is rightfully agnostic, and so should we, given the many wild and unsubstantiated claims by spiritual leaders today and throughout history.
Like Thomas, We can only hear, and are called to trust on that basis. We are twins with Thomas.
And Jesus says to Thomas, when he grants Thomas the great blessing of seeing him, "‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’" He's talking to us, the disciples and apostles (the ones sent) who have not seen, but only heard.
Do you see what John does with Thomas?
Thomas does not trust because he has not seen, but only heard.
Thomas still hangs in with the community and comes to church the next Sunday— read each Sunday— despite his inability to trust, and despite the fact that he has not seen.
And then, one Sunday, despite the fact that he can only hear, just like we can only hear two thousand years later, Jesus comes and stands among them, and then...
then Thomas sees. And that promise is there for us.
Will you hang in with your twins? Will you worship with us? Will you trust what you can, even if it is only that someone here cares for you? I have to say that care of a friend is about all that has kept me in the church sometimes. But it has been enough... because through that I have seen Jesus, just as my twin brother saw him.
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. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!