Cultural Context Second Sunday of Easter C
April 3, 2016
John J. Pilch
Believing Without Seeing
Thomas! Branded forever with the adjective “doubting” in
a story that scholars agree is a creation of John
the evangelist. Thomas is made to typify the “doubts,”
skepticism, and hesitation that plagued all the early
witnesses to the risen Jesus.
Secrecy, deception, and lying are so common and prevalent in day-to-day life
in the Middle East of past and present that every native entertains a healthy
skepticism about everything. While a native Missourian insists that people who
make mind-boggling claims should “show me!” thus implying that “seeing
is believing,” natives of the Middle East would not agree.
Remember the parable of Lazarus and the greedy man (Luke
16:19-31)? When the
greedy man experiences the punishment that his lifestyle has merited for him
in eternity, he begs father Abraham to send Lazarus back to his surviving brothers
to warn them. Abraham replies: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets
[that is, believe the Scripture that they read or hear], neither will they be
convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Would Thomas be offended to know that the evangelist created a story featuring
him as a “doubter”? Probably not. This characterization is quite in
accord with what is known of him in John
11:16 and 14:5.
Some think that he may indeed have been with the group in John 20:19 (today’s
Jesus appeared and that
Thomas initially didn’t believe his eyes.
At this appearance Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side (Jn 20:20).
This action was most definitely intended to dispel their unspoken but very real
doubts and to assure them (and us) that this person is not a ghost but the self-same
Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and died on the cross. For these disciples,
it seems that seeing is believing. No one asks to touch and verify the wounds.
Thomas presents a contrast. He wants to physically probe Jesus’ body to confirm
the miraculous. Yet when confronted with Jesus invitation to touch him (Jn 20:27),
Thomas backs off. He rapidly comes to his senses and confesses his faith: “My
Lord and My God.” He accepts Jesus’ new invitation: “Do not persist
in your disbelief, but become a believer.”
Writing for a later generation of Messianists who were gradually being deprived
of apostolic witnesses by death, John composed the story of Thomas and the “beatitude” that
concludes today’s episode: “Truly worthy of esteem are those who have not
seen and yet have believed.”
Just as Thomas and his fellow apostles were able to make a significant cultural
leap and suspend their suspicions of deception to believe what they saw, so too,
modem, scientific-minded Christians who no longer have anything to see must believe
what they hear. Paul reminds us that “faith comes from hearing” (Romans
John J. Pilch
J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and
facilitator of parish renewals.Liturgical Press has published
fourteen books by Pilch exploring the
“cultural world” of the Bible.
Go to http://www.litpress.org/ to
find out more.
The complete text of the
above article can be found in:
The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C
John J. Pilch. The Liturgical Press. 1996. pp. 61-63.
Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the
Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
Used by permission of Liturgy Training
Publications. This art may be reproduced
only by parishes who purchase the
collection in book or CD-ROM form. For
more information go to: http://www.ltp.org/