Gospel Commentary: The Ninth Beatitude

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." It is not one of the classic eight beatitudes listed in Matthew's account of the Sermon of the Mount (Mt 5:3-11); nor is it included in Luke's less familiar list of four beatitudes and four "woes" (Lk 6:20-26). Yet this "beatitude" — which stands alone in the Gospel of John — is perhaps one of the most consoling for those of us who live 2,000 years after the life and times of Jesus Christ. The first Easter, perhaps the most unusual day in human history, ended as it had begun — a melange of darkness and light, fear and joy, confusion and faith. Ecstatic and disheveled women run about Jerusalem with a wild tale of angels and a risen Lord. The Magdalene, through copious tears, sees a gardener and hears her Teacher. Peter and John sprint to an empty tomb; the former leaves wondering, the latter believing. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus listen blindly to the greatest Easter homily ever given and fail to perceive that it is a sermon from Christ Himself — until they recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. Finally there is the appearance to "the 12" (actually down to 10 at this point). The men who were commissioned by God Himself to boldly preach the Gospel are hiding behind locked doors. One can hardly blame them; their behavior during the preceding three days was less than impressive. The treasurer of the group sold their Lord for 30 pieces of silver and committed suicide. Their divinely appointed leader denied Jesus three times, cursing and swearing that he didn't even know "the man." Their first exercise of unanimous episcopal collegiality involved abandoning Christ to an enraged mob and fleeing like cowards into the darkness. On Friday the Apostles hid safely in their holes, while the women who had ministered to the needs of the group stood faithfully by Christ on the Cross at Calvary. Perhaps it was not merely fear, but shame as well, which brought the fellowship together in the locked room on Sunday night. Then Jesus stood among them — the same Person, yet somehow different. Suddenly appearing and disappearing, passing through locked doors — yet physical, flesh and bones, able to eat fish and show His gawking disciples His punctured wrists and pierced side. "Shalom" (Peace be with you") is the greeting of the Risen Lord to the hierarchy of His new Church. "As the Father as sent Me, so I send you." Then breathing on them, Jesus utters His first command to His brothers after His resurrection: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men their sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are hold bound." Mere men receive the power to forgive sins, and gather about their Lord in wonder. But not Thomas. "The Twin" must have fled farther and faster than the rest, and was still safely hidden that Easter night. "We have seen the Lord!" the Apostles tell him later. Yet Thomas, who had heard our Lord Himself predict that He would be raised up on the third day, declares emphatically: "I will not believe!" (Actually, the original language of the passage employs a "double negative" …perhaps more accurately translated, "I ain't never going to believe!") It must have occurred to the Apostles that if they couldn't even convince one of their own band that Jesus was raised from the dead, they would never persuade the hard-hearted Jews of Jerusalem … the Samaritans … the Galileans … or the rest of the world that had never even seen or heard Jesus. Then, a week later, Christ came again. The same room, the same company — only this time Thomas was with them. Turning to Thomas, He challenges, "Take you finger and examine My hands. Put you hand into My side. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!" "My Lord and my God," declares the "Doubter." For the first time in Scripture a believer declares without qualification that Jesus is God. In a single instant, by the power of His Presence and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, Jesus brings the disciple of weakest faith to a place of pre-eminence. Then the Christ speaks words which are our great consolation and hope … "Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe." We have never seen … yet we believe. This reality is a great miracle — a true testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit and the sacrament of baptism, which confers on us the supernatural virtue of faith. Men and women down the centuries, without ever having laid eyes on Jesus or having heard His words directly, have fought and suffered and given their lives in witness to their belief in Him. We too are called daily to be "martyrs" — witnesses to our faith in Christ. At times we sense the weakness and imperfection of our belief; we may be assailed with difficulties and darkness, struggling to understand the great Mysteries of our Faith. But once a man approached Jesus and prayed, "Lord, I believe … help my unbelief!" This prayer can help us as well. And when we see the Sacred Host suspended over the altar in the hands of a priest, we can say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God," and know by faith that it is so. With complete confidence in the prophecy of Christ, we can recognize that we are the fulfillment of the words Jesus spoke to Thomas those 2,000 years ago. Blessed are we who have not seen, yet still believe! Fr. Riley is parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Warrenton and professor of Sacred Scripture at Christendom College in Front Royal.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2000