Seeing and Not Seeing

Thomas, one of twelve disciples, is certainly one of my favorite Biblical characters, and not because he was also called Didymas (a name that's never really gained much traction outside of 1st century Palestine). I just relate to the disciple who needed to see for himself that a dead man named Jesus was now the risen Christ. His story is recorded here in the 20th chapter of the gospel of John, a book that makes frequent reference to seeing and not seeing.

But what am I to make of the last verse in that passage? The one where Jesus tells Thomas, "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me." Was that some subtle dig at my homeboy Doubting Thomas? Was he now somehow second rate?

That verse, and what seems to be its mis-characterization of Thomas, has always bothered me because...well, what's wrong with wanting visual confirmation of the crazy notion that a dead man is no longer dead? Thomas did become St. Thomas after all, certainly not a second-rate accomplishment. Maybe there's more to this. Maybe this was a teaching moment used by Jesus, not just for Thomas, but for everyone in the room.

Could it be that Thomas, and all of us, need to recognize that the visible presence of Christ is nothing compared to the invisible blessing that Thomas was about to experience in Christ's absence? As Chris Green so clearly explains in his book Surprised By God, Thomas was about to know the difference between being with Christ and being in Christ. Before this experience, Jesus was merely another body in the room to Thomas. But now he realized that Christ was the room itself, and the house and the neighborhood, indeed the entire universe. That's a powerful difference that changes everything about Christianity.

Thomas was being taught that we are not called to see the presence, but in his absence, we are to be the presence of Christ for others.