Our text this morning
is from the 20th chapter of the gospel of John, a very familiar story, I
think. I invite you to follow along in your pew Bibles,
specifically those, because I am going to change the translation in two
places where I have a disagreement with the way the New Revised Standard
Version has translated it (in fact, the way most translations have
See if you can pick
up on those two places, and I'll come back to them a little bit later:
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 [Judeans], Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.’
26 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.’ 27Then 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 [disbelieving] but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
I want to follow-up
this morning on a quote I used
last Sunday, and
unpack it a little more. That quote was from retired Episcopalian
Bishop Daniel Corrigan, well into his 80s. He was asked if he
believed in the resurrection, and he responded "Yes, I have seen it too
many times not to believe".
Now, please note that
this theologically trained leader of the church, who knew all the
historical, the textual, the psychological arguments, did not say he
believed it because of the arguments for and against. He did not
say he believed it because of the witnesses. He did not say he
believed it because the Bible says it and that's good enough for him.
He did not say 'Well, the creed of the church says'.
He said 'I believe it
because I have seen it'. I have experienced it. More than
His answer, I think,
was wise and profound. But I find the question to be as revealing
as the answer.
If you recall the
story as I relayed it from Diana Butler Bass (from whom I heard it), the
question came not in some public secular setting, but precisely from
within the church. From a fellow parishioner. We, being
modern people, are by nature skeptics. And I don't think that's a
bad thing. When politicians make claims (as they are want to do in
this season of elections) for what they have achieved or will achieve,
we question them, as we should.
When scientists make
claims about climate change or origins of the earth or cures for
disease, we want to see the evidence, as we should.
When authors write
sensational biographies of some child who grows up in a disadvantaged
neighborhood in difficult circumstances and overcomes all the odds to
achieve success as an adult, it becomes a best seller. Until
someone says 'Wait a second, I know that person', and that's not a true
So we have been
trained, we have been conditioned, to question everything. So when
we come to church, are we supposed to lay all of that skepticism aside,
all that conditioning aside, and just agree with whatever the preacher
says? Yes, of course! J
No, we bring our
skepticism into church too, don't we? And so Thomas -- or
'doubting Thomas' as he is known -- I think would be called our patron
saint. The patron saint of the skeptics. And, in fact, I
propose that doubting Thomas has received a bum rap in history.
He's not the bad guy as he's often portrayed. Indeed, he's a hero
of this story. Thomas is a model of Christian faith for an age of
His story is really
no different than that of Bishop Corrigan. So I invite you this
morning to take a deeper look at this very familiar story, and I want to
do so by focusing on those two words that I changed.
What was the first
one? Judeans instead of Jews.
Now, to say that the
disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews, as the New Revised Standard
and every other translation I know says, I maintain is wrong
linguistically, historically, and morally.
translators still use "Jews" for this text reflects just how deep
anti-Semitism remains within the Christian tradition. Now, of
course, you all agree with me, right? No no no no no --
you're skeptics, where's the evidence? Where's the proof?
How can I make a claim contrary to 1,600 years of a tradition of
translation going all the way back Jerome, who translated the Latin (by
the way, I had the privilege of being in the study where Jerome did that
a few weeks ago when I was in Jerusalem).
First of all,
linguistics. The term "Jew" comes from the term 'Judah', the name
of one of the 12 tribes. That became the name by which the
southern half of Israel was known -- Judah. Judean, then, referred
to those folks from Judah. Galilean was the term used for those
folks up North. So you could be a person of Hebraic descent, live
in Galilee, and you'd be known as a Galilean. If you lived in
Judah, you were known as a Judean.
The term "Jew" did
not come to refer to both of those groups until the 2nd century.
The term, however, could be used in the first century for both of
those groups, as witnessed by the Apostle Paul, who used the term 'Jew'
referring to both groups. But most scholars today recognize that
the gospel of John uses that term exclusively to refer to those
associated with the southern part of the nation, with Judah.
Because of its proximity to the Temple, the Judeans were those who were
invested in that hierarchical structure, controlled by the Sadducees,
who were in collaboration with Roman authority. Those are the
Throughout the 4th
gospel (John), Wes Howardbrook (a scholar) writes: "The text works
to establish opposition not between Christians and Jews, but between
Galileans and Judeans". And of course Jesus and his disciples are
all Galileans -- they all come from the North. And hence when they
go to the south they begin to have conflict when they're among the
The gospel, then,
Howardbrook says, is not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish, but anti-Judean,
where Judean is a symbol for those whose allegiance is to the world.
So linguistically, it is not correct to say they are hiding from the
historically. All of the disciples, of course, are also Jews in
that broader sense of the term. To say that they are hiding for
fear of the Jews would be like saying African-Americans who identify
with the preaching of Jeremiah Wright (something else we talked about
last Sunday, the
pastor of Barack Obama), would be like saying they are angry at
Americans. But that would imply that they're not Americans.
So, you see, you
can't say that. You'd have to say 'Angry at what Americans?'
Well, white Americans. All white Americans? No, Obama made
that clear, Jeremiah Wright has very good relationships with many white
Americans, so it would refer to a specific sub-set within white America,
as defined by the use of power to continue racialized policies of the
past that still make true equality a difficult dream to achieve.
By the way, before
you join in the condemnation of those harsh judgments by the Reverend
Jeremiah Wright against our nation, I invite you to take note of the
insert in your church bulletin from the Community Alliance of Lane
County, made for the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin
Luther King Jr, happened on April 4th, 1968. So we are celebrating
that 40th anniversary this week. And look on the third panel, there you
will find a quote from a speech he gave to the Memphis Sanitation
Workers in the midst of their strife to achieve better working
conditions and wages. The speech was given 40 years ago this March
18th -- I read from the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs (King is talking about
the story of 'Dives' as he has become known in tradition, the rich man,
and Lazarus the poor man. Remember that story -- Dives is in the
torment of Hell because he had ignored Lazarus. Lazarus is in the
bosom of Abraham, and Dives wants Lazarus to go up and warn his
relatives of the peril that is pending for them if they don't pay
attention). So, King says:
didn't to to Hell because he was rich. His wealth was an
opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother
Lazarus. Dives went to Hell because he passes by Lazarus every
day, but he never really saw him. Dives went to Hell because
he allowed Lazarus to become invisible. Dives went to Hell
because he wanted to be a conscientious objector in the war against
poverty. . . .
I come by
here to say that America, too, is going to Hell.
[Keep in mind King is preaching to the sanitation
workers and their supporters]
If we don't use her vast
resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of
God's children to have the basic necessities of life, she too, will
go to Hell."
No different, really,
than the preaching of Jeremiah Wright, and this is a man for whom we
have a national holiday. By the way, I checked with some of the
black religious leaders in our community to ask if this is the kind of
preaching they're used to. And they said 'Oh yeah'. No
surprise in that. We're initiating a dialogue that hopefully we
will take public in some way about these issues.
So is this
anti-American? Or is it just pro-Jesus?
My point is just that
it is no more accurate to say "the "ews" killed Jesus than it is to say
"the Americans" killed Martin Luther King.
Lastly, morally, you
cannot say that the disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews even if
it were linguistically correct and historically correct. It would
be morally wrong, for if we do not learn the lessons of 2,000 years of
Christian anti-Semitism, then the condemnation of people like King and
Wright upon us is well deserved.
The disciples were
hiding on that Sunday night of the resurrection because they feared not
the Jews (like themselves), but the Judeans -- those who were part of
the established powers that crucified Jesus three days before.
It is, thus, in this
context of oppression and fear, John tells us, that the church was born.
Opposed not by another religious group, but by the social, political,
economic, and military power of the day. And in light of such
opposition, can anyone blame Thomas or anyone else for being just a
What hard evidence do
they have that the way of Jesus would achieve any other result than
crucifixion on a Roman cross?
This brings me, then,
to the second mis-translation in our text, the response to Thomas by
Jesus. It literally reads, not as we're used to hearing and
reading "Do not doubt but believe", instead it reads "Do not be
disbelieving, but believe". The word is the same word, only in the
negative. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.
There is a common
misunderstanding that to have doubt is incompatible with Christian
faith. To the contrary, I think doubt is quite normal.
Indeed, if you don't have any doubts about the claims of Christianity
you aren't thinking hard enough.
Our vision team
talked about putting up some banners on the outside of our church to let
folks know that we may not be the kind of church they think we are. That
we dare to think outside of the box of tradition because we follow a
Lord who thought and acted outside of the box of tradition. So
here's a banner idea to let folks know they might fit right in -- what
if we put on the outside "Doubts welcome here". "Questions welcome
Doubt is not the
opposite of faith, it is a normal product of faith. Our task is
not so much to remove doubt as it is to instill faith. To move
people from unbelief to belief.
See, I have a lot of
doubts about whether or not a 40-ton machine filled with 250 people and
all their luggage can stay in the air for 12 hours! But that
doesn't stop me from flying across the Atlantic. I don't enjoy it
-- all those doubts keep going through my mind, how is this possible?
Any doubts that you
have about the many claims of Christian faith should not keep you from
believing that the way of Jesus is the way that God wants us to live and
Thomas, therefore, is
a model for us precisely because he does not let his doubts get in the
way. Instead, he voices them. He raises his questions.
He cites the evidence he's looking for, and he's still hanging out with
the disciples. By the way, he's no different than them. They
didn't believe Mary when she came back with her report about seeing the
Lord. They needed to have the same experience that Thomas is now
asking for. He's no different, he wants to see for himself, he
wants his own experience of the resurrection.
And so Jesus comes
not to shame him for his disbelief, but to provide him that experience
that he needs. The grace in this story is that the risen Christ
fulfills the desire of Thomas to give him his own resurrection
experience. Just as Mary and the other disciples had. Just
as Peter testifies on that day of Pentecost -- "We are all witnesses of
And I think that the
gospel writers, when they write that, they don't just mean those who
were living in that time, they mean ALL followers of Christ are
witnesses to the resurrection. And so the witness of Bishop
Corrigan 2,000 years later is that the risen Christ fulfills that desire
still to this day.
I've seen the
resurrection too many times not to believe.
And John notes that
even in a closed room with locked doors, the risen Christ comes.
Even amidst our doubts and fears, the risen Christ comes.
What's our evidence
to make such an audacious claim?
I can tell you only
what I've seen:
I've seen homeless
families come into our interfaith shelter, living in our trailers, who
have gone on to find stable housing.
I've seen alcoholics
and drug addicts who changed their habits, broken their addiction.
I've seen ex-cons
given a second and third chance living and working among us.
I've seen people
diagnosed with potentially fatal diseases go on to live full, healthy,
and in some cases long lives.
I've seen families
adopt handicapped children and raise those children to be incredible
young people full of life and potential.
I've seen sexually
abused people work through their own personal trials to end the long
years of victimization, even after the abuse stopped, to reclaim their
wholeness, dignity, and pride.
I've seen sexual
abusers change their ways and develop healthy sexuality, to become new
I've seen those who
have lost their jobs, careers, lost their standing in the community,
lost their self-esteem, rediscover their meaning, their value, their
I've seen victims of
discrimination because of their race, their sex, their sexual
orientation, find here a place where they are affirmed and regarded as a
full brother or sister in Christ.
I've seen women told
they could not preach who have been ordained into Christian ministry,
These are not people
I've read about, they are people I've come to know here in this
congregation, people here in our midst.
It's because of them,
it's because of you, that I can say: I've seen the resurrection
too many times not to believe.
May we all have that