Encountering Christ in the Gospel

The Gospel reading for the Sunday after Pascha, St. Thomas Sunday, is John 20:19-31 :

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

Jewish biblical scholar Adele Reinhartz notes that in John’s Gospel there are repeating patterns of events which serve a didactic purpose for those who will hear the Gospel.

“The purpose of this pattern seems to be to convey to the audience that Jesus’ miracles are not intended to demonstrate his superhuman abilities but to testify to his identity as the Son of God. This aspect of the Johannine signs calls to mind Ex. 10.2, in which the Lord tells Moses that the signs that he has done among the Egyptians were in order that the people might know that ‘I am the Lord’.

A second example of close narrative patterning can be found in the stories that narrate the call of the disciples. In almost every case, it is someone who already believes that testifies to others and brings them to encounter Jesus, after which they believe as well. For example, John the Baptist tells two of his disciples to follow Jesus. One of them, Andrew, tells his brother Simon Peter, who then comes to Jesus and becomes a disciple himself (1.42). Jesus finds Philip, who tells Nathanael, who comes to encounter Jesus and becomes a disciple (1.49). The Samaritan woman meets Jesus by the well and testifies to her Samaritan community; they invite Jesus to stay with them, after which they become believers (4.41-42).

The purpose of this pattern becomes clear at the end of the Gospel, when Thomas refuses to believe the disciples’ testimony that Jesus has risen from the dead unless he can see for himself. Jesus returns and invites him to see and touch him, but he offers a gentle rebuke: ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’ (20.29). Here the Johannine Jesus is clearly addressing later readers who will not have the capacity to see Jesus directly but will believe in any case. The Gospel’s concluding statement (20.30-31) indicates that for later generations, it is the Gospel of John itself that will be a basis for faith, the means through which believers can encounter Jesus.” (The Jewish Annotated New Testament, pg. 157)

After the Apostles personally met and experienced the risen Christ, the next generation of Christians had to rely on the testimony of the Apostles to come to faith.  With the death of the Apostles, the next generation relied on the witness of the Apostles as preserved in the Gospels themselves.   We see this same thinking in Luke 24 where the Apostles encounter with the risen Christ does not open their eyes or bring them to faith.  Rather it is only in the breaking of the bread and the opening of their minds to the Scriptures that they come to realize Christ in their midst.   So now for all generations of Christians we know that it is not a personal meeting with Christ that can help us believe – it didn’t help the Apostles who personally knew Him and should have recognized Him!  Rather, we have the same opportunity the Apostles had to come to know Christ – in the Eucharist and in the proclamation of the Gospel.  Our greatest chance to come to meet Christ and believe in Him occurs in the Divine Liturgy itself.


2 thoughts on “Encountering Christ in the Gospel

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