Thomas J Parlette
“Blessed Are the Believers”
John 20: 19-31
Harold F. Bermel tells of driving through Pennsylvania Dutch Country with his daughter and seven year old grandson. They passed an Amish horse and buggy, and the grandson asked, “Why do they use horses instead of automobiles?” Bermel’s daughter explained that the Amish didn’t believe in automobiles. After a few moments, the grandson asked, “But can’t they see them?”(1)
Good question. Once you’ve seen something with your own eyes, it’s pretty hard not to believe in it. That’s why the followers of Jesus are so often considered fools. We believe in a God we cannot see, in a Savior who performed miracles and came back from the dead, and a Holy Spirit who lives in us and guides us in the way of truth and love. No wonder so many people reject our faith.
Our passage today is based on a man who has been nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.” In all honesty, Thomas gets kind of a bad rap. He doesn’t deny the resurrection. He has proven that he’s a loyal disciple by staying with Jesus while he was alive. It’s just that he is also a rational man, he is a realist. He’s not going to let himself get too excited until he sees Jesus with his own eyes. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
That of course happened on the following Sunday evening. The Gospel of John tells us, “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
And Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Blessed are the people who have come to grips with their doubts in an honest and forthright way and have made a commitment of their will to trust in the care and providence of God.
They are indeed the blessed of this earth. They are healthier, happier, and generally more effective I relating to others than are the doubters, the critics and the cynics. It is they who move the world forward, for there is power in believing – more power than the unbeliever can ever know. Part of that power is the power of vision. If seeing is believing, then the converse is also true. Believing is seeing – seeing possibilities and promises that bode good fortune for all who perceive their presence. Blessed are the believers.
Of course we all have our doubts. All thoughtful people do at times. Woody Allen had a point when he said “Faith would be easier if God would show himself by depositing a million dollars in a swiss bank account in our name” – but God doesn’t work like that.
I once read a true story about a young man named Charlie who was in love with a charming young lady named Ava. She was in love with Charlie, but so far he had been unable to persuade her to marry him. Then one day he invited her to lunch. They drove to the Los Angeles Coliseum, the largest sports arena on the West Coast.
In the center of the vast field were placed a small table and two chairs. A maître d’ showed them to the table, a captain seated them, and a waiter waited behind each chair. Except for them, the whole Coliseum was empty. 100,000 empty seats stared down at Charlie and Ava.
The table was elegantly set. Caviar and champagne was served. Then a soufflé and salad and more champagne. And as they were waiting for dessert, Charlie directed Ava’s attention to the huge electronic scoreboard at the far end of the field.
In a prearranged signal he raised his glass, and on the board flashed the words, “Darling Ava, will you marry me?” She of course, said yes.(2)
Sometimes we wonder, why can’t God do something like that for us? It would be easy. A grand gesture of some sort. A giant comet streaking through a dark winter night with it’s tail sky-writing a message, “I love you, God.” Why doesn’t God do something spectacular to let us know he’s there. We can sympathize with British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell who was once asked what he would say to God if he had the chance. And Russell said, “I would ask God, ‘Why did you make the evidence of your existence so insufficient’”(3)
There is a part of us that says with Thomas, “I need to see some evidence before I believe.” We all long for certainty. But that is one gift that God has not granted us.
I’m sure God has reasons for this. If God’s aim was to produce mature spirits fit to spend eternity in the Divine Presence, it makes sense that God would not reveal Himself fully to us. Such certainty would keep us perpetually immature. If a child knows that his parents with always take care of every problem, resolve every crisis and comfort every sorrow, the child will never develop self-reliance. It may be that our insecurity and doubt is essential to spiritual growth.
Brennan Manning, in his book Ruthless Trust, tells the story of John Kavanaugh, a man who went to work with Mother Teresa for three months at the “House of the Dying” in Calcutta. He went not only to be of help to others, but he was also seeking a clear answer as how best to spend the rest of his life.
His first morning there, he asked Mother Teresa to pray for him. She asked what he needed prayer for. He replied, “Pray that I have clarity.”
And Mother Teresa said “No.” Then she went on to say, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”
When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed. “I have never had clarity, what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you will trust God.” (4)
God has reasons for not revealing the Divine Presence more clearly to us. Perhaps because it is essential to our spiritual growth to question and to ponder and to seek God as a thirsty person seeks water.
Besides, most of us have enough certainty. Jesus said that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed and we will be able to move mountains. It’s not how much faith we have that makes the crucial difference in life. It is how much we love and trust God.
The poet Robert Frost once spoke of the founders of this country and how they journeyed forth without a map saying: “They did not believe in the future, they believed the future in. You are always believing ahead. Where is the evidence that I can write a poem? I just believe a poem in. The most creative thing in us is to believe a thing in.”
Then Frost says, “The ultimate example is the belief in the future of the world. We believe the future in. It’s coming because we believe it in.”(5)
The most creative thing in us is to believe a thing in. We believe in God’s kingdom. But the real meaning of our lives as Christians is to believe God’s kingdom into being. Blessed are the believers who believe the Kingdom into being. They are a blessing to this world.
Believers are those who know that the world can yet be a better place. Consider our own society. Who have been the builders? Who have constructed hospitals, great universities, the social service agencies? Behind every one you will find people who hold in their hearts not cynicism but hope, not hostility but love, not doubt but faith. As someone once said “Where has there ever been a monument erected to the cynic, the doubters or the critics?”(6)
In 2007, Disney released a wonderful film called Ratatouille. It tells the story of a rat named Remy who has a talent for cooking. He winds up in Paris at the once famous restaurant, Gusteau’s. There he helps a bumbling kitchen worker named Linguine bring Gusteau’s back to prominence on the French culinary scene.
Towards the end of the movie, the feared food critic Anton Ego visits Gusteau’s to sample a dish prepared by the new chef, who turns out to be Remy. The cynical critic is deeply impressed with the dish and writes a reflective review in the next day’s paper. He has this to say about his role as a critic:
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.”
“But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
“But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.”
The believers among us, the ones who have believed without seeing, are the ones who risk something in the discovery and defense of the new. In this case, the new life brought about by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Blessed are the believers.
So the question for today is – Where are you this morning? Are you on the side of the doubters and the critics? Or are you on the side of the believers? Anybody can be a doubting Thomas. It takes no particular strength of character to say, “Unless I see some proof, I will not believe.”
But it does take strength of character to say, “I don’t have all the answers. But I know who is making this world a better place. It’s those who follow the man from Galilee, and I want to stand with them. I don’t have all the answers, but unless someone proves otherwise, I will stand with those who believe that this world was the creation of a good and loving God. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe the death and resurrection of Jesus has somehow changed this world forever. I don’t have ALL the answers, but I have what I need. Put me down as a believer.
For as Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
Blessed are the believers! May God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXV, No. 2, p27.
2. Ibid… p28.
3. Ibid… p28.
4. Ibid… p28-29.
5. Ibid… p29.
6. Ibid… p30.