Molong cloudset, NSW 2011

Mary my sister, Thomas my twin.

Week of Sunday April 7 - Easter 2
Gospel: John 20:19-31

The lectionary is like a radio serial. Where do you choose to break the story until next week? As in the Luke reading of last week, the events of one day are split across two weeks in the reading from John 20:19-31. So, last week...

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’

When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

This week... cue the music

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 passes....

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.

Peace, fear, and blessing
As always, John is multi streaming in his narrative.

He did not allow Mary to hold onto Jesus. (20:17) This tells us we are to live and relate with the risen Jesus who is with the Father, not the Jesus of earth. In the story this week, when the risen Jesus comes to the disciples, Loader notes the similarity with the appearance to the disciples in Luke 24:36-43. He says it "is hard to believe the writer of the fourth gospel is unaware of the story in some form. Our passage appears to be a creative extrapolation."

The Lukan disciples are afraid; afraid he is a ghost, but "they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence." (24:42) John reworks the story. The disciples were locked away "for fear of the Jews" and his first words are "Peace be with you." He breaches their fearful defensives, and offers them peace.

There is no mention of fear. And there is no Lukan eating of fish. When Thomas insists that he will not believe until he touches, (20:25) this is clearly shown as a lack in his faith and discipleship.

I am inclined to see this as a hint that John is pointing us beyond needing a physical resurrection at all, but do not know if this was his purpose. However, he certainly wants us to understand resurrection in terms far wider than the mere physical; Jesus says to Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’" (20:29)

Thomas does not touch
This first point I have highlighted contrasts with the insistence on the presence of Jesus' wounds. Thomas has demanded them, and Jesus offers them for Thomas to place his hands in them. We do see the risen body. It is clearly tactile, as one of my colleagues puts it.

Mary does not touch Jesus, or if she does, is told not to cling to him. Touch is discouraged; perhaps disparaged, despite the fact that he is clearly there "in the flesh."

Thomas sees
What Thomas does is see! When Thomas simply sees Jesus, no touch, he makes the crowning confession of the Gospel: My Lord and my God! (20:28) It is better to see and believe than to need to touch, to need material proof. Lucky for us now!

But Thomas could not hear
In Matthew, when Peter makes his confession Jesus says, "Blessed are you, Peter Son of John!" (Matt 16:17) There is no such praise for Thomas' hearty confession. "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." (20:29) It is not far short of criticism.

It is those who have heard, and who then believe, who have best trusted the risen Lord in John's understanding. They are the blessed. I always imagine that in the movie The Gospel of John, that Jesus will turn from Thomas and look into the camera, at me, when he says, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Telling
When Mary finds the empty tomb, she tells Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved. (20:2) When she sees the Lord, she tells the disciples. (20:18) The disciples tell Thomas. (20:25) and in each both cases the message is "I (we) have seen the Lord." Brian Stoffregen says, " The story does not end with "seeing the Lord," but by believing and sharing the message." This is the purpose of the book, says the author of the edition that ended with this week's reading. "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..."

No Doubt
There is no doubt in John. This ambiguous figure Thomas, "who finally gets it right," either believes, or does not believe. The word so often translated as doubt is a-pistos. As Stoffregen says it is exactly analogous to the grammatical construction we use in English. Moral means we have morals, a-moral means we are without morals.

He also reminds us of our twentieth century curse and heresy; the idea that to believe means to accept a proposition is true. This is the merest beginning of belief; indeed, one who barely accepts the truth of a proposition may still place their trust or their loyalty in Jesus. Ironically, it is Thomas, barely understanding, as yet, who says in Chapter 11:16 "Let us also go, that we may die with him," as Jesus goes back to the danger of Jerusalem.

And another, able to produce profound intellectual reasoning in support of Jesus' lordship, may not trust him in the least!

I wish to reproduce the work of Brian Stoffregen at some length here. It is an important insight into John, and Thomas.

The biblical laments indicate that questioning God is an aspect of faith. If one is asking God questions or seeking answers from God, there has to be some kind of faith that God exists and can respond. It implies some trust that the answer will be correct. Thomas' questioning, his desire to be sure (a meaning of πίστος - pistos), can be commended as an aspect of faith in God.

Besides the possible meanings of πίστος/απιστος (pistos/apistos), we need to also look at the verb in this line: γίνου - ginou (with the negative μη me). It is the 2nd person, singular, present, imperative of γίνομαι -ginomai. Ginomai has two basic meanings: (1) "to become" and (2) a substitute for ειμί - eimi = "to be".

Rather than using meaning 2 in the sentence: "Do not be unbelieving, but [be] believing; I might suggest using meaning 1:

  • Do not become unbelieving, but believing
  • Do not become unfaithful, but faithful.
  • Do not become uncertain, but certain.
  • Do not become distrusting, but trusting.

Thomas seems to be at a crossroads in his life. What will he become? What adjective will describe him: trusting or not, faithful or not, certain or not?

Thomas moves. He goes from not understanding, but following anyway, through not trusting, and finally confesses and trusts. Perhaps we should call him, as Brian does, Confessing Thomas.

John Petty has more on Thomas.

Jesus announces "peace" again, and focuses immediately on Thomas. "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.)

Then Jesus says, "Reach out your hand and throw it into my side." (The word is bale, "to throw.") In essence, Jesus is saying, as the old hymn puts it, "Cast all your cares upon me." The over-all sense of the dialog is Jesus' intention to bring Thomas to faith. As Mary Magdalene and the disciples have seen, Jesus also wants Thomas to "see" his hands and, moreover, throw himself into the very wound which gave birth to the church.

The Jews
Petty also says

...the fourth gospel is basically an argument between a Galilean and Judean worldview. The Judean worldview, in a nutshell, is the view from the top, i.e. the Temple leadership and their allies, the ruling families of Jerusalem, and, in turn, their allies, the Romans. The Judean position is marked by pision and barriers--rich vs. poor, Jew vs. Samaritan, insider vs. outsider.

The Judeans (ioudaion) are no reason or excuse to be prejudiced against Jewish people. Jesus was a Jew.

The disciples returned to their homes
Verse 2 reflects a change from what I've always imagined in the Easter story. The disciples are not strangers in Jerusalem; they go home from the tomb; to several homes, in fact. John is a gospel written long after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is from a time when Christians were living in their own homes; not camped together in Jerusalem at Passover.

The eighth day
This means the disciples travelled from their homes to the locked room where they were afraid of the Judeans and locked the doors, that Easter evening. (They were still afraid of the Judeans.) And they do it again on the next Sunday. Many translations say, "A week later...." which is only part of the story.

The Greek uses the words "after eight days." In this expression John reflects weekly worship; that is when you meet Jesus, or rather, he appears to you; when you go to church!

He reflects the tradition of the eighth day, that time early on Sunday when slaves met for worship before attending to the needs of the household. (I note that in Melbourne there is a Baptist Church which calls itself The Eighth Day. There is some debate about how much this eighth tradition is being read back into John, I believe.)

And he reflects the eighth day of creation. Just as John begins with echoes of the Genesis creation story, we hear now that Jesus resurrection is the eighth day; the first day of the week, and the first day of a new creation.

My Lord and my God!
Stoffregen notes that almost

the same words (Dominus et Deus noster = "our lord and god") were used by Emperor Domitian for himself. It’s likely that his reign (81-95 CE) was during the time the gospel of John was written.

He wonders if John is putting a political statement in Jesus' mouth. I think the answer is unavoidably, "Yes!" Brian (a US citizen) asks "How important is it for us to repeat this message as American patriotism is at its highest level in a generation or more?"

Here in Australia, we like to blame you all over there as the cause of all the world's problems, neatly avoiding our jealousy of your success. And avoiding our responsibility; we've still done our damndest— and I use that word deliberately— to get all the goods of the world. Either Jesus is our Lord and our God, or someone else is. Anne Lappe said, "Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the world you want". With our money, and everything else we do, we are also saying who is Lord; Jesus or Caesar.

He breathed on them

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." (20:21-22)

Brian Stoffregen again

To symbolize the giving of the Holy Spirit/Breath, Jesus "breathes on" (εμφυσάω - emphysaō -- only occurrence in NT) the disciples (without Thomas!). The same word is used in Gn 2:7 (LXX) where God breathes the breath of life into the nostrils of the man and he becomes a living being. It is used in Ez 37:9 where the breath breaths on the slain [the dry bones], so that they may live. It is also used in Wisdom 15:11c where God "breathed a living spirit into them."

The first day of the week; the eighth day; which is eighth day of creation, but also the first day of a new creation; it is the day of the giving of new life. God breathes into us!

Forgiveness
Jesus' words are different from Matthew 16's loosing and binding on earth and in heaven.

Stoffregen quotes striking words from Capon's Hunting the Pine Fox.

... The church is not in the morals business. The world is in the morals business, quite rightfully; and it has done a fine job of it, all things considered. The history of the world's moral codes is a monument to the labors of many philosophers, and it is a monument of striking unity and beauty.....

What the world cannot get right, however, is the forgiveness business – and that, of course, is the church's real job. She is in the world to deal with the Sin which the world can't turn off or escape from. She is not in the business of telling the world what's right and wrong so that it can do good and avoid evil. She is in the business of offering, to a world which knows all about that tiresome subject, forgiveness for its chronic unwillingness to take its own advice. But the minute she even hints that morals, and not forgiveness, is the name of her game, she instantly corrupts the Gospel and runs headlong into blatant nonsense.

The church becomes, not Ms. Forgiven Sinner, but Ms. Right. Christianity becomes the good guys in here versus the bad guys out there. Which, of course, is pure tripe. The church is nothing but the world under the sign of baptism...

And under the sign of baptism we may forgive sin among ourselves and show how it is done. Far easier said than done, and far too often failed, this is our calling. If we do not forgive sin among ourselves, then we hold onto it with all the same erosion and corruption it causes in the rest of the world rotting our own body;

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. (20:23)

The forgiving of sin, and all that entails, rather than sweeping sin under the carpet or moving it into a far off parish, is a stunning sign of God's grace, a potent telling that he has risen. And when we don't forgive, the world sees we are just like it is, only bigger hypocrites, and rightly ceases to listen.

Many other signs
Petty points out that there are seven signs in John; the perfect number. There were many other signs, but these are enough that we may come to trust* that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. In our trusting, and our growing trust, we will find he breathes life into us. (20:31)

But why is Thomas a Twin?
There is only one story (John 14:5) where Thomas is not identified as a twin. The Hebrew form of the name comes from twin. Why is he so consistently called a twin? It's like saying John called John each time you mention John.

The question is very old; the Gospel of Thomas begins "These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.... " (1:1) Some traditions played with the idea that Judas was Jesus' twin brother. (Raymond Brown)

I think Mary is my sister. Together we stumble through life in the half dark, grieving and lost, and find an empty tomb; resurrection is given to us again. We can weep for joy as we discover life is not over.

If she is my sister, I am even more the twin of Thomas. I long to follow; but scarcely understand what I am doing. (11:16) I fail to trust. I insist on touching; finding absolute certainty, and hesitate to throw myself into the wounds "which give birth to the church" again, and which hurt though they may, will give me new life. And sometimes I see, and hear, and trust my Lord and my God with all my heart.

He is The Twin because he is us. If he can do it ...

Andrew Prior
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!


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