Hearing Is Believing

Sermon preached on Quasimodo Geniti (Second Sunday of Easter)
Text: John 20:19–31 (Ezekiel 37:1–14  1 John 5:4–10 )
15 April 2012
Our Saviour Lutheran Church
Fareham

It’s one of my favourite paintings, and as far as I know one of the best known of Caravaggio’s many masterpieces: Doubting Thomas. Jesus is revealing the wound in His side, with an expression of patient endurance, with perhaps a tinge of pain. Thomas has his forefinger in the wound, with a look of utter astonishment painted with perfect realism on his face, while two other disciples look on. Caravaggio captures with extraordinary skill the moment of belief, when Thomas is forced to believe against all his better knowledge what the other disciples had already told him: Jesus really is alive. But he would carry forever the title of Doubting Thomas, because it is more blessed to believe when you haven’t seen, yet he only believed when he saw.

But as I have often said, the epithet ‘Doubting’ is not really fair on Thomas. It makes it sound like he is somehow inferior to the other disciples, a lesser apostle, perhaps even a deficient sort of man. There are those good people who believe without seeing, and then there are the thomases who need evidence. When in reality he wasn’t Doubting Thomas but Everyman Thomas. He really believed, as we really believe, that seeing is believing. That, if in doubt, you need to verify what you hear with the other four senses.

Now, this may be a sound principle in some situations, but it makes for very poor theologians—and under that heading, I include all who claim to know anything about God. Indeed, the very misery of mankind for which Christ died and rose again began with seeing as the instrument of believing. God had said to Adam that he may eat of every tree in the garden, but on the day that he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would surely die. But because the snake promised Eve that her eyes would be opened by the eating, Eve looked at the tree and she “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate”.

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