Monday, Oct 6, was the feast of St. Thomas, the patron saint of our parish. Of course the Gospel lesson was from John 20, where Thomas misses the first resurrection appearance, then demands proof at the second. Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29).
During the service I was struck by the difference between this passage and Matthew 16:17 where Jesus tells Peter (who had just confessed him as the Messiah and Son of God), “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you.”
I know the question is not original with me, it is a normative question for preachers preaching this text, but I ask it anyway. What is the relationship between “seeing” and “revelation”? Could have Thomas seen and believed without the truth of the matter being first revealed to him? Was the scene in John 20 even possible without the denouement of Matthew 16?
Is “denouement” even the correct term for the scene in Matthew 16, or am I just using a fancy French word where a monosyllable American term would work just fine? I believe it is the correct term. The revelation of Christ as God is indeed the final denouement, and everything else in the Gospel story unravels after that revelation. All our human hatreds, sins, and shackles are shown for what they truly are. No prophet is received in his own country, and as a result, those human hatreds, sins, and shackles are hurled at Jesus so as to destroy him.
It is equally true that a new reality begins to ravel together. (Is that the opposite of unravel?) Heaven and earth are slowly knit together like bone, muscle, and sinew after a terrible fracture. But in that period of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the unraveling and raveling occurred simultaneously so that the ultimate destruction of Jesus (and isn’t that what most everyone, except for his mother, the other women, and possibly John believed?) made the resurrection nigh impossible to believe, even for someone like Thomas to whom these things had been “revealed.”
No, the necessity of seeing the flesh and bone of Jesus complete with wounded hand and side, was not a result of faulty revelation “way back when” before the persecution got underway in earnest, it was rather the crown of a second denouement. The Gospel story is truly two stories in one. It is the story of the revelation of God in flesh and the resulting unraveling of human hatreds, sins, and shackles. But it is also the story of “That which was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands …” (1 John 1:1) and how this thing, this “Word of Life” began to ravel that which was true even while the chimera of life as we knew it unraveled all around us.
It is a story so unbelievable that it requires a human response as much as it requires divine Voice and Breath. “Revelation” is necessary, but “seeing” and “looking” and “touching with our hands” is also necessary. The former unravels our pretensions and self-deceptions. The latter ravels our true self together with the divine life that is the only longing of our true self. Ultimately belief is very different and not fundamentally rooted in empirical evidence, but we are not spirit creatures of pure volition, we are bone and flesh knit inseparably together with soul and spirit. Revelation is a marvelously merciful gift, but without someone there to touch with their hands and thus speak to our bone and flesh, that revelation would ultimately be our unraveling.
Thanks be to God for Thomas and his earth-bound questions, and who grounds that heavenly revelation in the here and now of earth so that we can believe and enter into the new creation.