Benny Nalkara, CMI
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”(Jn 20:29). This powerful statement of Jesus on the occasion of the proclamation of faith in the risen Christ by Thomas, the apostle after seeing his wounds, seems to present an anti-evidence, anti-rational approach to the Christian faith: Jesus appears to berate Thomas for requiring evidence of His resurrection while pronouncing a blessing on those who believe without the need for evidence. A closer examination of the passage in its context, however, reveals this reading of the text to be mistaken.
This statement of Jesus clearly summarizes the message of discipleship in the Gospel of John. In the Gospel of John, the call to discipleship is a call to “come and see” in contrast to the Synoptic version, “to come and follow.” John presents this act of “seeing” as “believing” all through the Gospel. “What are you looking for?” are Jesus’ first words in John’s Gospel, and this very question denotes the action of “seeing.” The first disciples, answered his question with their own, “Master, where can we find you?” which was not at all different from the notion of “seeing.” The entire gospel is the solution to this act of “seeing” or “finding.”
The connection between believing and seeing is significant in John’s Gospel. There is John the Baptiser’s seeing of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus (John 1:29-34). There is the disciple’s seeing of Jesus’ glory when he turns water to wine at the wedding in Cana, and the believing that follows this (John 2:11). There are the people in Jerusalem who see the “miraculous signs” (John 2:23) and believe in Jesus, and there is Nicodemus who comes to Jesus under cover of night because he, like the crowd, has been touched by the miracles he has seen (John 3:1-8). There is the blind man who is given sight by Jesus, and who then learns to see who Jesus really is, while the religious leaders, who claim to see, remain blind (John 9). There are the sisters of Lazarus who are told by Jesus that they will see God’s glory if they believe (John 11:40), and whose brother is raised. There are the moments – many of them – in which Jesus laments that people won’t believe unless they see miracles, and in which John connects seeing and believing (John 1:50; 2:18; 4:48; 12:37; 15:24). In nutshell, the term, “seeing” is used in the sense of “believing” by John.
The declaration by Jesus, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” at the end of the Gospel of John well connects with this theme of “seeing and believing.” The entire fourth Gospel presents before us a gradual progression in the nature of faith. We find a progress of faith from unbelief to the partial belief and later to the perfect belief, well expressed the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” But what we find here is that Jesus is taking this belief to another level, i.e., “believing without seeing.” He qualifies it as real blessedness. In the Johannine terminology, “believing” has the nuance of a relationship. We must see the “abide in me” expression in John in connection with this interpretation. Thus act of believing without seeing results from the trust one is having in the person of Jesus and this trust need not require the real “seeing.” To grow into this level of faith is a real blessedness and Jesus presents it as a beatitude. More than berating the quest for evidence for faith, what Jesus aims at here is highlighting this “blessed faith.”
The Gospel of John was written in the context of a crisis of faith in the early Church and the declaration of Jesus to Thomas was the answer given by John, the evangelist to this crisis. The martyrdom of apostles created the absence of the authentic witnesses who had met Jesus face to face and experienced his love and mercy personally. People took seriously only those who were primary witnesses to Jesus. So the evangelist gives this “blessing” to the generations who need to “believe without seeing.”
As the disciples of Jesus today, we often tend to be the people who “believe after seeing.” The search for miracles and wonders in life in order to have faith in Jesus has become like a habit for an ordinary faithful. The ambience created by the “spiritual circles” are also promoting only such a belief system. Faith and spirituality are to be nurtured on trust in and relationship with God. More than empirical evidences the evangelical truth should help us to foster the real faith. The “beatitude of faith” is an everlasting reminder from Jesus for us to refine, rejuvenate and rekindle our faith.