Today’s gospel (JN 20: 19-31) tells the story that has come to be known as “the doubting Thomas incident.” Thomas, not in the upper room when Jesus appeared the first time to the disciples after his Resurrection, would not believe that Jesus had truly been there. He wanted to experience Jesus himself – a reasonable request in light of the evidence of the past days. So Jesus came back for him a week later offering his hands and side – the places of his wounds – as evidence of his physicality although he had entered the room through locked doors.
Quite often I’ve been engaged in conversation about whether being alive when Jesus walked the earth would have been better than being a Christian today. There are pros and cons to each, the most evident of which is about the possibility of having experienced Jesus in the flesh. Would I have recognized him as the person that Christians have come to know and believe in over the past 2000 years if I had, in fact, seen him with my own eyes? Is the endurance of his message over millennia easier for me to believe as evidence that he is truly the Christ whom God sent to teach us how to live? It’s easy to yearn for the experience of walking with Jesus, sitting in his company and listening to him. But the trials encountered in those days make me wonder how strong my faith would have been.
The reading today from the first letter of Peter (CH 1:3-9) is full of hope for those of us living now. He speaks of a living hope as our inheritance and says: Although you have not seen him, you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
How is it then that we can love without seeing? It must be that love calls us to the heart of things. Actually, when people say, “I see!” they are sometimes stating their understanding of a concept that they have just come to understand. And sometimes, as in the concluding moments of the movie, AVATAR, when someone says, “I see you” it means “Because I love you and accept your presence in my life as gift, I am brought to a knowing that speaks of my willingness to be with you as companion for all time.” Or, as Antoine de St. Exupery’s Little Prince says it: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”