With Our Own Eyes
Scriptures: John 20:19-31, Psalm 16
It remains an intriguing mystery to me how the lectionary was pieced together. Oh, to be in the rooms where it happened. It seems the ultimate in table seating arrangements: Whom shall we sit next to whom, where is the potential for the richest conversation, the most compelling combination? Where might it get a bit tantalizingly awkward?
I love that the Psalm today, in which the writer declares: “I will not be shaken”, is paired with the tender story of Thomas, who, at least according to John's gospel, was shaken indeed. That is delicious complexity.
I was nine years old when my dad left us. He walked out, he drove away, and left my mom, my two sisters and my little brother and I to fend for ourselves. It was an abandonment, a loss that would leave an imprint on the whole of the rest of my life.
I responded to this painful, unwanted upheaval in a myriad of ways. One, is that I did the math, and figured out that if I could lose my dad, there was also a chance I could lose my mom. I decided right then that I needed to keep an eye on her.
Haunted and paralyzed by fear that she might leave us too, my little self would sit on the window seat in the living room any time she was away from home, unable to calm my anxieties, watching and waiting for her. My sisters and my brother were with me, but mom was not... maybe she had to go to the store for bread or milk or cereal, maybe she was running a bit late getting home from her job as a preschool teacher, maybe she was tending to one of the countless quotidian tasks single parents juggle. All I knew, sitting and looking out the window, was that she was not home and I would not feel safe again, unshaken again, until I saw her with my own eyes.I felt so raw, so vulnerable.
The window seat held a view of the street in front of our house. I would sit there for as long as it took, until I saw the forest green station wagon turn the corner and pull into the driveway. Only then could I know she was okay, that she didn’t leave us, only then could I breathe. And I could get on with my normal 9 year old life... tossing the football in the backyard with my brother Steve, noodling on the piano, piecing together my jigsaw puzzle, listening to my Donny Osmond records (oh, Donny, be still my heart).
From our Psalm: The Lord is life and breath to me, presence is surrounding me
God is holding on to me, I will not be shaken.
Do you ever observe people, find yourself curious, watch how they move about in the world, listen to their stories, take in how they react and conclude, “oh yea, I get that.” Do you ever pick up on a few clues as to what might make up the heart of a person and decide…. “Oh yea, these are my people. “
If invited to sit at table with one of the disciples, I’d want to sit by Thomas. If I found out I’d been seated next to someone else, I’d sneak in early and switch the place-cards. C’mon, don’t give me that look, you’ve all done it.
This portrayal of Thomas in our gospel today compels me to want to know him more. These few lines about his response to unfolding events, his expression of need, these are enough to tell me that he is my people.
It does seem a bit unfair to me in today’s gospel reading that Thomas gets his chops busted for being so raw and vulnerable about the assurance he needed. I mean, the rest of the guys in the room, while certainly loved by Jesus, were not exactly poster boys for unyielding faith and decorum…what with their occasionally pompous, once in awhile curmudgeonly, now and then unpredictable temperaments and behaviors. They could, at times, be a little all over the place in embodying how to follow the way of Jesus.
Who do they remind me of? Oh yea… me. Maybe… you?
Kinda makes me wonder if John had it in for Thomas in some way and called him out. Took a moment of unguarded, visceral desire and set in under the floodlights. Or, maybe it’s in the precarity of how the story was handed down, told and retold, that informed how it landed on the page, painting Thomas in a light that has left him a bit maligned, with an unfortunate nickname and reputation that likely bears very little resemblance to the truth of who he was.
Shortly after my dad left us there was an awkward “strategy session” disguised as a family picnic in the valley with my grandparents. As I sat under the willow tree picking at my grandma’s nasty 3-bean salad that was drowning in way too much vinegar, my grandpa motioned my mom aside. And as if he didn’t realize I was sitting right there within earshot and taking this all in, he pointed directly at me and whispered solemnly, albeit a bit too loud: “you gotta keep an eye on that one. She's sensitive.”
I wonder if John or any of the other disciples ever huddled in corners at awkward gatherings and pointed to Thomas, whispering loud enough for all to hear: “we gotta keep an eye on that one. He's sensitive.”
From our Psalm:
Praise the One who counsels me, in the night she teaches me
Spirit speaks sweet peace to me
I will not be shaken
Yea, Thomas. I've got my eye on you. You show me how to blurt it out, all messy and unrefined. You give me permission to say what I need, even if it is different from what everyone else in the room seems to need. And I love you for it. You are my people.
Several years ago, a collection of letters written by Mother Teresa to colleagues and superiors was published. In some of these letters, the beloved saint expressed doubts about God.
Many people were distressed about this, there was some global angst, a collective “yikes”, a gasping, “oh no, did she just say the quiet part out loud?” How could she not experience doubt? Given the desperate scenes she bore witness to, given her heart that beat in singular fashion toward the care of the poor. How could she not long to see a deeper justice and fairness with her own eyes?
And our friend Thomas, given what he’d borne witness to in those harrowing hours leading up to Jesus’ death…the betrayal, the madness, the brutality, the sorrow, the suffering. And now, hearing that Jesus had been seen alive, how could he not long to see his beloved teacher and friend with his own eyes?
A lifetime ago, when my mom would walk through the front door and find 9 year-old me sitting at the window, she never shamed me. I know she felt bad for me, that I suffered in this way. Her response was often something like, “oh, silly, you’re okay, I’m right here.” She would take me into her arms and wrap me in assurance. She met me where I was.
And blessed, compassionate, risen Jesus, appearing again to his friends who were still in hiding, understanding Thomas to his core, and knowing what he needed, invited him to trace his scars, to touch his wounds.
He met Thomas right where he was and wrapped him in assurance. And from this place, where he could breathe again, Thomas declared, “my Lord, and my God.”
It is recorded that Jesus then said, “you believe because you see. Blessed are you who do not see and yet believe”. The way my ears hear this may not pass muster at any liturgical council, but here’s how it lands with me: oh, how fortunate are those who are spared the anguish of desperately needing to see more than what is visible.
My siblings suffered our childhood abandonment in their own ways. Just not in my particular way. The story of Thomas teaches me that Jesus meets us in our particularity, knowing who we are to the core, understanding what we need, meeting us right where we are. We are his people.
From our Psalm:
God will not abandon me, the grave will have no hold on me Eternal pleasures wait for me I will not be shaken
Oh, that in the wrestling with and evolution of our faith, we might risk messy and unrefined declarations of need, of longing, of faith. That we might live out the complexity of the liminal space we inhabit today. The unconfined joy of trusting in what’s been told to us: That Jesus is risen indeed. And yet, carrying and nursing this tender longing for the appearance of our Risen Savior, an appearance that we see with our own eyes.
I sat at the window as a child, waiting for my mom’s car to turn the corner.
C.S. Lewis, the author of so many rich spiritual classics, wrote this: “One day, we will turn a corner, and all our dreams will come true.”
Today, breathing in the fresh and hopeful air of resurrection, we rest in the assurance that in our watching and waiting, we ourselves are seen, known, understood, and held indeed.
May we declare with the Psalmist - I will not be shaken, even when we are. May we declare with our friend Thomas, in whatever, however and whomever Divine Presence shows itself to us: My Lord and my God. My Lord and my God.