John 20: 19-31
Each year that passes by, my grandsons (between the ages of 7-4,) take longer to believe what I tell them. I think their playmates must trick them enough that they stop believing things the first time they hear them. Last week was my birthday, and my daughter asked her son, Marshall, (the five year old) how old he thought I was. “6?” he asked? “No” I said. “7?” He asked? “No” I said. So I said, “I’m sixty-four!” His eyes got big as saucers! I don’t think he could comprehend someone that old! A young Paul McCartney put his stereotypical lyrics into the Beatles song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.” At one point he sang, “Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more?” And I thought, he nailed it! Those are some things I see plenty of people doing at 64; and now I expect I’ll be digging weeds too! It’s hard to wrap our heads around some things in our world. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the challenge President Kennedy gave to our nation in a speech he gave on May 25th, 1961, giving the challenge, before the decade was out, to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth. That was in the sixties, when calculations were made by over-sized clumsy computers and, we learned, by some sharp minded women of color described in the wonderful film “Hidden Figures.” Last week, 50 years ago, a later mission, Apollo 13, almost ended in disaster. And 108 years ago last week, the ship touted as “unsinkable” sank; the Titanic. People then doubted the safety of ocean travel even more. NASA stopped sending Apollo rockets into space in 1972. People doubted the safety and necessity of traveling to the moon. But in the late 1970s the cruise industry started growing and the Space Shuttle program became a great success for many years! Right now, in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, people are doubting if they will ever feel safe taking cruises again; or flying in planes again or shaking hands again; or talking to people face to face again. Fears feed disbeliefs, but with time, courage, and new insights, we can move forward. We as a society learned that we could cross the ocean safely again; that we can fly rockets safely into space again; and I have learned that there is life after 63. It seems that we start as children in a tender and innocent fashion, but we grow wiser with uncles who tell us they can remove their thumb right before our eyes (As I showed the children today,) and we learn who we can trust, and who we can’t. We may have had playmates who taunted and teased us, and that likely brought on two things: tears, and callouses. Tears because the tender parts of our innocence got poked and challenged. We felt hurt or embarrassed or mad. We got callouses on our soul and our psyche, just like with our bodies. Adults taught me this axiom: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!” So we join with the rock group “The Who” in declaring, “We won’t get fooled again!”
We don’t know anything about Jesus’ disciple Thomas’ early life, but I’d imagine he was an ordinary boy, learning from his father and sometimes being teased by other children. So by the time he was tapped to be an apostle of Jesus, he joined the band of brothers already jaded; and he joined the rest of us in saying to himself, “I won’t get fooled again!” I get that, don’t you? I don’t want to be caught flat-footed in a group of peers who are in a taunting or teasing mood. I can feel my emotional shields going up in an involuntary fashion. But they do not engage when I am playing with those sweet grandsons! My son Matt told me I should see the new film “Onward.” What’s it about?” I asked. “About brothers who get to bring their father back from the dead for just one day, but only the bottom half of his body comes back.” “What?” I asked disbelieving, wondering if I heard him right. “Just watch it,” he said. “You’ll be glad you did.” Weird, right? “Is that believable?” I wondered.
When do you doubt what someone says? Today it is hard for us to erase the knowledge of Easter; I have been told Jesus arose from the dead since I was a young boy. But a man rising from the dead was unbelievable in 33 A.D. in Jerusalem. Finding Jesus’ body gone was a shock to Mary who went to the tomb with spices to anoint his body. It seemed to stun Peter, who, according to John, had to go back to the tomb after Mary reported what she found. He ran to the tomb for the same reason that we would- to see for himself! When a picture in the newspaper showed a small plane that had crashed into the side of a house, dozens of people got in their cars to go drive by and see it for themselves. When someone says, “It’s gotten cold outside,” how many of us either check the temperature ourselves on our phone, or on a thermometer, or by walking outside? When someone says, “A baby bird has fallen to the ground from a nest” how many of us instinctively want to see it and think about helping it? Me? The words of my parents fill my head: “Leave it alone; if you touch it, the mother will not take care of it; and if you stand by the baby bird, the mother will not return.” But like most of you, my instinct is to look! “Mary went and announced to the disciples ‘I have seen the Lord!’” Thomas wasn’t there when Mary made her announcement. Had the others made the trip to check out the tomb for themselves? Some did. They wanted to see for themselves, just as we so often want to see for ourselves. They had time to process what they had seen; they had time to think back on all the words that Jesus had said before his death and fit the pieces of his puzzle together. Then, wonder of wonders, Jesus himself appeared to them. That hadn’t happened to Thomas, yet.
Some women have told me that after their husband died, a number of days later they saw their husband appear in their bedroom. One woman said she saw him at the foot of the bed; another woman said she felt his warmth beside her and saw his side of the bed sink down as if he were lying beside her. Do you believe that? Do you doubt that? I believe what those women said they saw; but no one has ever told me they touched their loved one physically; it was, by most descriptions, an apparition. Jesus was different. A full week after he arose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples for a second time, to Thomas for the first time. Thomas might have thought he was seeing an apparition too. But Jesus knew human nature, just like Jesus knows you, and knows me. So he said, like I would say to one of my grandsons: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Jesus’ goal was not to trick people, or even to amaze people. John knew Jesus’ goal; he wrote about it at the end of this chapter; so that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that through believing, you may have life in his name.” (vs.31) Jesus trusted John perhaps more than any of the other Twelve. He chose for John to watch over his mother after his crucifixion. And he chose for John to write these things down so that people like us, who cannot jump into a DeLorean and go back in time, might believe. Jesus so much wants us to believe in him, and in what he said. No doubt! Doubts can sometimes be voices of darkness, trying to pull us away from the one true voice. Don’t let that happen1 Trust Jesus! Trust John! And trust the message that our Lord Jesus truly has risen from the dead! That is “a foretaste of glory divine,” as hymnwriter Fanny Crosby put it. Fanny was blind from a young age due to the incompetence of a quack doctor. And yet she, in her blindness wrote so many hymns. “How many?” you may ask. Like Marshall guessing my age, would you guess a hundred songs? Two hundred? Her publisher forced her to use several pseudonyms, so she is said to have written 9000 songs! I can picture your eyes growing big as saucers; like Marshall’s did when he learned I was 64; and like Mary’s did when she saw the empty tomb! Try in your life to return to wonder and amazement, not giving in to discouraging, doubts, darkness, and cynicism! Find some things to be wide-eyed about! It could change your outlook on life!
Thanks be to God, for news that makes our eyes wide.
Jeffrey A. Sumner April 19, 2020