There is a famous Indian fable that was turned into a poem by John Godfrey Saxe. In the story, six blind men encounter an elephant. The first walked into the sturdy side of the elephant and soon reported that an elephant is very much like a wall. The second got hold of one of the tusks and declared that an elephant is really like a spear. The third got hold of the trunk and said that an elephant is like a snake. The fourth ended up touching the knee and decided that an elephant is like a tree. The fifth happened to touch an ear of the elephant and concluded that an elephant is very much like a fan. The sixth blind man touched the tail of the elephant and decided that it was more like a rope. They argued over and over again about who was right. Of course, they were all right and they were all wrong. The poem and the fable encourage us to try to see the big picture of things, to take into account various perspectives rather than just one single view.
This concept can be helpful in our faith journey. When we try to understand scripture, I think it is wise to read the thoughts of several different commentators rather than relying on just one view. I also think it is valuable for us to share our opinions about a particular passage. Sometimes we can broaden our perspective by listening to what others see or hear. It might help us to better understand how God is speaking to us. There are many mysterious aspects to God and our relationship with God. That is one of the reasons that we must try to find God in many different ways.
On Palm Sunday and Good Friday, we listened to the account about the death of Jesus. The four stories about the passion of Jesus as we call it are remarkably similar. Yes, there are differences such as what was said when Jesus was interrogated by Pilate, but they give a common report on the reason for his death and the critical points of what happened. On Easter Sunday, we read the story of the resurrection of Jesus. Once again, there may be some differences in who came to the tomb and what they experienced but the tale is the same, the tomb was empty and Jesus had arisen.
Scripture is not always so consistent. Today I want to share with you some of the post resurrection stories. Jesus appeared to many of his followers after he rose from the dead. What I find interesting is that none of them are the same. Matthew has the great Commissioning, Luke has the Walk to Emmaus, John has the breakfast with Jesus by the Sea of Galilee. All are different. I hope you will take a half hour or more sometime and read the conclusion to each of the Gospels.
These differences have caused people to question the veracity of the post resurrection stories. Some say that Jesus could not have done all the things he was supposed to have done. I find that funny because Jesus rose from the dead, something that was impossible. Why would it be impossible for him to visit many different people at similar time? Some people wonder if the narratives were invented. I never have the answer to that issue. I don’t know about the details. I can only say that I believe Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to many.
This week, the gospel is about Thomas. We call him doubting Thomas. We read this passage every year one week after Easter. An important line for us is “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Yes, Jesus is talking about you and me. Jesus appreciates us for we never encountered the living Jesus. While our faith is critical, I think this passage and others point to the acceptance of those who have doubts. And other Scriptural passages help us to see clearly that Jesus is with us in all that we do.
Doubt may be a common experience for most of us. I know I have doubts all the time. I have doubts about whether I can complete a project at home. I have doubts about whether I was a good father when my daughter was younger. Yesterday, I led a memorial service for a family that I did not know well. Even though the wife of the man who died and his daughter both thanked me, I still have doubts about whether I did or said the right thing. And there are times when I have doubts about how God works in the world. Most of the time, I believe in an active God, that is God changes things every day. But some times I wonder why God doesn’t do more.
So let’s look at Matthew’s Gospel, the final passage is the calling of the disciples to ministry. The eleven disciples go to Galilee, to a mountain where Jesus told them he would meet them. Jesus told the apostles to go and make disciples of all nations.
But I want to point out what happened when the disciples first saw Jesus. We are told that they worshipped him but some doubted. It sounds a little bit like the Thomas story doesn’t it? When we put these two stories together we have so much support for our times of doubt. Jesus knew about doubt because he experienced so much doubt from regular people but it is especially meaningful that he had close followers who had questions.
There are clear indications that someone added to the gospel of Mark some time after it was completed. This second ending of Mark was added for those who had questions. Jesus appeared to the eleven and he “upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen”. But then Jesus reassured them that if they believed he would show them many wonderful signs such as casting out demons, speaking in tongues and curing the sick. Jesus wants us to be reassured. He will be there with us as we care for others.
The promise that Jesus would be with us is also found in the last verse in Matthew. Jesus said to the disciples, I am with you always to the end of the age. Jesus is with us now and always. Jesus is with us when we have questions and Jesus is with us when we go out and proclaim his kingdom to the rest of the world.
John has a final chapter that ends with an appearance by Jesus in Galilee, similar to the way that Matthew’s gospel ends. Several of the disciples are fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They have fished all night but they have caught nothing. The risen Jesus appears on the beach at daybreak and tells them to put their nets on the other side of the boat. When they catch more fish than they can handle, the disciples realize that it is Jesus on shore.
Jesus offers them fish and bread to eat. He sits with them and has breakfast. I find this to be a reminder of the communion that we have each Sunday. Jesus is with us in the bread and the wine. He gives us nourishment for our travels here on earth. Jesus was there to help the disciples and he is there to help us as well.
Jesus then speaks with Peter and three times he asks Peter if he loves Jesus and three times Peter replies yes I do. After each response Jesus tells Peter to feed my sheep. Peter is to pass down the tradition that Jesus began. Peter is to take care of the followers. For us this is a two-sided message. First, we are to know that we will be fed when we come to be with Jesus. And second, we are called to feed others. It is a beautiful passage.
In the visit of Jesus when Thomas is present, Jesus wants the apostles to be at Peace. He wants to give them the power of the Holy Spirit. Once again, Jesus gives us gifts for our journey.
I began today with the story of the blind men and the elephant. They argued about which one was right rather than putting all of their encounters together so they could “see’ an elephant. I find the same is true of Scripture. When I consider the different stories that can be found in Matthew, Mark and John, it doesn’t cause me to question. Rather it helps me to accept my doubts, be reassured in my faith and feel confident in the presence of Jesus in my life. Thanks be to God. Amen.