Easter 2A

April 21, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel

    John 20:19-31

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Comments and Observations

    It seems like social media has been endlessly abuzz lately about the new movie Noah.  I have not seen the film but all of the Noah-talk did remind me of the classic Bill Cosby comedy routine on this, which I first heard many years ago and that I found side-splittingly funny (despite its tap dancing on the borderline that led to the territory of what my Dutch relatives always labeled as “sputton,” a.k.a “sacrilegious”).   But in the comedy bit, as God revealed his plans for a flood and then ordered Noah to build an ark, Cosby’s Noah responded again and again with a wry, “Right!”   (Here is a brief taste in case you’ve not seen it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bputeFGXEjA ).   It was Cosby’s cheeky way to remind us that despite the Bible’s tendency to tell stories that proceed with an air of ho-hum inevitability, the truth is that if God ordered you to build a giant boat in the middle of a meadow, your first response would not be “OK, fine, when do I start?” but rather more along the lines of “Right!” and “You can’t be serious!”

    So let’s stop pigeon-holing poor Thomas with the adjective “Doubting” for saying exactly what we’d all say if someone came up to us three days after a loved one’s funeral to say they’d run into the once-dead person.  Not one of us would say, “That’s wonderful!  Thanks for telling me!”   No, we’d say “Right!”

    Thomas did too and it is wholly understandable.   The notion that a dead man was back alive again was not exactly something you grabbed hold of and easily believed in a minute or two. So Thomas plays it safe but also then speculates aloud as to what it might take for him to believe this after all. As he talks, his rhetoric gets more and more exaggerated. "My friends, I'd have to see with my own eyes the nail holes in his hands. No, tell you what, I'd need to touch those holes with my own finger. Better yet, I'd want to stick my whole hand right into his side where the sword pierced him!"

    Thomas kept mounting up an ever-larger heap of evidence that he thought he'd need to believe (and was just maybe being increasingly cheeky the more radical he got).

    Of course, once he does meet Jesus, all that evaporates. To paraphrase a traditional aphorism, if you don't have faith, then there will never be evidence enough to convince you and if you do have faith, no evidence is needed. Without faith, no evidence is sufficient; with faith, no evidence is necessary. And although most of us probably agree with that in principle, we can perhaps admit that sometimes we are still hungry for a little evidence, or a little more evidence than we usually have.

    Jesus himself knows that faith is both a blessing and a miracle. That's why he says in verse 29 that while it was one thing for Thomas to believe with Jesus standing right in front of him, it would one day be quite another thing to believe without such undeniable physical proof standing in the same room. But John at least seems confident that he has given us enough for just such faith to be born. That's why he immediately follows this comment by Jesus with his own commentary in which he says, "Now listen, friends: I have left out a ton. Jesus said and did lots of other really amazing things that I just have not gotten around to even mentioning. But what I have given you is enough. Read it and believe!"

    Now I don't know about you, but when I read how much John left out, there is a part of me that wants to cry, "Tell me!" It's rather like narrating a story to a little child. You know what happens the moment you say something like, "I've left out some of the best parts but I'm not going to tell you all that now!" The child's reaction is predictably along the lines of, "Awww, come on! Don't leave me hanging in suspense!"

    There was so much more to say but John seems convinced that he had said and written enough. And by the Holy Spirit who guided John's pen, we believe that he's right about that. If John could know how many millions of people over the centuries have come to faith, or had their faith strengthened, by what he wrote in this gospel, wouldn't it most certainly reduce him to tears? Could he have had any idea how great an effect his carefully crafted account of Jesus would finally have?

    Sometimes we may find ourselves wanting more, but by faith we need to be satisfied with enough, which is exactly what our God in Christ gives us.

    Textual Points

    As everyone knows, John 20:30-31 looks powerfully like the end of the gospel.  Jesus’ ministry is summarized, John admits he’s written down only a portion of what all Jesus said and did, and then gives the purpose statement for the whole gospel: “But these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ of God and that by believing, you may have life in his name.”   You can almost see the words “The End” following that verse.   Fade to black. But then comes the surprise: another entire chapter with a homely story on a beach.   Jesus cooks breakfast for his friends, re-commissions Peter despite his recent failing, and then John again concludes the narrative in almost word-for-word replication on the conclusion of John 20 but this time, in John 21:25, he reaches for a hyperbole to indicate that not only did he not write everything down that Jesus said and did (a point he’d already granted at the end of chapter 20) but that as a matter of fact, IF anyone even could write them all down, the whole world could not contain the books that would be written. This double-ending of John seems strange.  It’s almost as though John finds it hard to ring down the curtain on his gospel.  He knows it has to end and yet . . . and yet maybe not just yet.  One more story.  And then when that one final narrative snippet gets written down, he knows he has to quit and so says in essence, “I’m really going to quit this time but it’s not the end of the story.  In fact, the story has no end.  I have to quit writing and you have to quit reading but in truth, the world isn’t big enough for this story.”   It seems to be John’s way of reminding us that when he quits writing and we quit reading, what remains is for us to go out into all the world to tell of the Christ who, though for a while he was in the world, was actually bigger than the world, too.  And THAT is something to talk about every day forever and ever!

    Illustration Idea

    One of the most difficult disciplines that film actors need to learn is to resist the temptation to look directly at the camera. Actors need to pretend like the camera is not even there because if for even a second or two they glance into that lens, viewers see it immediately. In fact, if you've ever watched amateur video productions, then you know that one of the main things that distinguishes amateur work from professional films is that you can often spy one of the people in the scene cutting their eyes in the direction of the camera. It's hard to resist! But it's a problem because when it happens, it breaks the magic spell that films try to cast—it breaks down what in theater they call “the fourth wall” which is the one that exists between the stage and the audience. Viewers need to suspend the awareness that this is just play acting so as to get immersed in the movie or the play as though it were really happening. But the second some actor becomes obviously aware of the camera, the viewer is aware of it too and the gig is up. Occasionally, of course, having an actor intentionally look at the camera is done for humorous effect. It becomes like an inside joke between the actor and the audience.  (As in this clip from the movie Trading Places when Eddie Murphy’s character is being condescended to so badly that he looks square at the camera as if to say to the viewers of the movie, “Oh puh-leeze!”   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emvySA1-3t8 ) In general, though, not looking into the camera remains a thespian rule of thumb. If you read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, then you know that these three evangelists also avoid, as it were, "looking into the camera." They tell the story of Jesus straight out but without addressing their reading audiences directly. John, however, is different. Throughout his gospel John keeps stepping out of the scene to talk to us directly as readers. As you read various stories, it's almost as though John stops the narrative now and again to whisper into your ear, "Now, remember, when Jesus first said this to us, we didn't get it. It was only years later that we figured it out. OK, now back to our story!" But nowhere is this as clearly evident as at the end of John 20 when we readers take center stage as John turns directly toward us. He even uses the second person pronoun: "This is written so that you may believe." You can almost see John's finger pointed in your direction. But then . . . what John is writing is no piece of fiction, no novel or play or short story.   It is the truth.   And it is a truth that comes straight at every one of us!
  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Acts 2:14a, 22-32

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 16

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Peter 1:3-9

    Author: Stan Mast