Believing is Seeing

(Based on John 20:19-31)

It’s been one week – one long, rancorous week. I was out getting food for our little cast of outcasts, and upon my return I was greeted with great excitement. The excitement wasn’t for the food and supplies I brought, or for the fact that I returned safely. No, the excitement, so the others said, was because they had seen Jesus! After they calmed down enough to tell me, all I could think was “This is a cruel joke to play on me!” They assured me it was no joke; Jesus had appeared to them, in the very room in which we were standing! And not only had he breathed on them, but he had given them the power to bind and release sin! This was blasphemy! Only God could forgive sins! And they claimed that Jesus had breathed on them, likening themselves to the creation of Adam and Eve, who received God’s breath! This arrogance was beyond understanding!

I refused to believe them. I had witnessed the brutal death of our friend and leader. I had watched him trek the streets, carrying his cross and the blood running freely from his wounds. I had stayed with Mary and the others as we watched through the tortuous hours until Jesus breathed his last. I saw the soldier pierce his side with a spear. I helped to remove Jesus from his crucifixion, and I watched Mary grieve over her lost son. I cried as we put Jesus in his tomb and cursed the soldiers placed about it as we left for Passover. I washed his blood from my hands and arms, where I had held his lifeless body. I cleansed Jesus’ blood from my face with my tears as we eleven tried to keep Mary sane after watching the inhuman suffering of her son. No, I knew Jesus was dead. I had felt his death in many ways, and tasted its bitterness. I clung to my conviction even in the face of the exuberance of the others. I knew Jesus was dead. Dead as rock. Dead as my happiness. Dead.

The last seven days have been nearly intolerable. The others have tried to convince me of their vision. I have accused them of sharing some kind of hallucination, the source of which I could not fathom. I have felt alone and an outsider; my frustration with them has been matched by their frustration with me. We have all been trapped in this room together, and with little privacy there is also little escape from each other. We have tried to remember what Jesus taught us in our too-brief time together, but it is difficult. There has been great rancor between us, and more than a few fights. There are whispers and accusations, and there I have withdrawn to be by myself, pondering my future. I cannot believe what they tell me, and they cannot believe I do not believe them. It is a vicious circle in which we find ourselves! I demand evidence of this vision before I will believe them, and they have no way of producing it!

I am tidying up a corner of the room, contemplating my choices. Should I leave the others and strike out on my own? What would I do? Were the Romans and the Sanhedrin still looking for us? Would the other followers help me if I left the eleven? Should I stay and try to work things out? Even if I thought my roommates were deceived, what of it? We had all been through a very traumatic event, after all. But I needed to decide – what was my destiny?

I was working with my back to the others, as I had recently grown accustomed to doing, when I sensed something different in the room. It was very quiet, with none of the usual background noise. I could hear the street noise – donkeys braying and shopkeepers hawking their wares – but the there was stillness in the room. I turned around slowly, carefully peeking over my shoulder, and I saw the others gazing toward the far wall. I followed their gaze and saw – oh Heavens! It was Jesus. He was different, radiant, but it was Jesus! How could it be? He was looking straight at me, and I felt his piercing gaze. I dropped the bundle in my hand and fell prostrate before him, bruising both knees and forehead. My bruises meant nothing, though, as I lifted my eyes and found his feet directly before me. I saw the wounds caused by the nail in his feet, though they did not bleed. The hem of his gown was only inches from my disbelieving eyes, and it was white, though whiter than any garment I had ever seen. I heard him greet the others, “Peace be with you.” I tried to bury my head in the floor, mortified that He should find me wanting. I could feel the roughness of the floor under my hands and my forehead, and I wished mightily that I could sink right through it and escape my shame in the streets outside!

Then I heard Jesus address me thus: “”Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

It seemed an eternity before I could answer. What does one say in situations like this? Silly thoughts, as there are NO situations like this, ever! I sensed every eye upon me, every breath being held as I struggled for a response. Part of me was leaping, like an antelope in springtime, that my Lord had come back to me! The rest of me felt lower than dirt that I had betrayed His trust and the trust of my fellow disciples in my unbelief. I simply responded as my heart commanded, never lifting my head: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus’ response was fitting, brief, and direct. “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This chastisement would remain with me forever. I felt as a young child, caught in some devilment by his parents and corrected in the public square. My heart had been laid open, my faith brought into question. But nevermore! Never more would my Lord find me wanting! I had learned my lesson.

Jesus then bent down and taking face in his hands, brought my eyes to his, and smiled. I was covered in a love and warmth that I knew would never leave me. He remained with us a while, doing signs and teaching us. And when he left, we were neither distraught nor at discord with one another, for I had learned that sight was not merely with the eyes, nor was evidence always tangible. Sometimes, the clearest sight comes from the heart, where trust lives. Sometimes the proof comes not with seeing, but with believing.

My Name was Simon

My name is Simon. Or rather, it WAS Simon. I was Simon back when life was simpler and all I had to worry about was getting enough fish in my net and avoiding the Romans whenever possible. I love to feel the sunshine on my face and the feel of the net in my hands. There is nothing like the feel of the lines as I cast the net over, hearing the lapping of the waves against the boat, and the flexing of my muscles as I pulled in a full net of fish. But all those things have changed.

When the man walked by my boat and asked me to follow him, I did. I just walked away from my boat and began to listen to him speak. What was it that made me go? Was it the look in his eyes, promising me things I could not yet understand? Was it the confidence in his voice, as if he truly believed that just by saying “Follow me” that I would? There was nothing special about his physique, nothing commanding immediate respect. Who was this stranger? Looking back, I can see how my friends must have thought me mad to leave my life behind and go wandering around with a complete stranger. They tried to contact me a few times, but then they gave up and left me alone. I’m sure some of them worry about me, especially after today – this horrible, frightening day.

Meeting Jesus that day was a turning point in my otherwise normal life. I have learned so much about him! I know that he is divine, that he is my Lord! And that is why I feel like such a worm, having betrayed him. I love him as I love a brother, and I love him as I love my God, and yet I could not live up to my own declarations. I have always had the habit of speaking before fully thinking through my words; my emotions have always flown from my lips before I fully engaged my brain! When Jesus said that he must wash my feet if I were to share in my inheritance, I jumped up and said “Then wash my head and hands as well!” I could imagine Jesus drenching me with a bucket of water, as if being fully wet would guarantee a place at his side in eternity! I saw the amusement in his eyes and the snickers of my friends at the table, but at that moment I was willing to do anything for Jesus! And yet, today I fell so short of my love…

The end began last night. Jesus had dinner with us, and as we reclined he blessed the bread and wine and shared it with us. He said some very confusing things, which I wanted to ask him about later, but later never came. And he told me that I would betray him! Impossible! The idea was unfathomable to me. I could not betray him!

He wanted to pray in a garden and asked us to go with him. He prayed a long time! Our dinner and the late hour overcame us, and we fell asleep as he prayed. I will never forget the reproach in his eyes when he came to wake us up. He seemed so sad, so preoccupied. Strangely, He seemed bloodied, but there was no one in the garden with him. Was my falling asleep part of the betrayal he foretold? I wanted to take his face in my hands and make him tell me what was bothering him, but I never got the chance. So many things I should have done, and now the time for them is past!

Judas arrived with some other men. We had been speculating as to why he left dinner. Jesus seemed to know, but we were not privy to his errand and assumed that he was doing something for Jesus. Judas! I spit on that name! He kissed Jesus on the cheek and then the strange men grabbed Jesus and took him away! I called out to him and tried to follow, but rough arms held me and beat me and I was unable to help him. Was this the betrayal Jesus foretold? I couldn’t just leave him, so I followed my master as he was taken away. He was taken to the high priest’s house. I knew that the priest did not like Jesus – or any of his followers – so I drew my cloak tightly around my shoulders, quieted my nervous stomach, and moved into the crowd that was gathering nearby. I tried to overhear some news, some snippet of information that might tell me what was happening, and slowly edged closer to the knot of men, straining to hear what I needed to hear. I was scared of being caught and exposed, especially before I could help my master escape, and I could feel my face betraying my fear.

“He’s one of them!” I heard a female voice say. No! I could not be exposed yet! I had not been able to help Jesus yet! “No, I do not know him!” I said. I turned my head away from the fire and tried to look small and insignificant. The woman looked at me again and then, tossing her head, she walked away. A few moments later, I heard the accusation again. “No! I do not know the man!” I said. Please, Jesus, come walking out of the door so we can leave and I can continue to learn from you! Still my wildly beating heart with your presence! The man who accused me left, muttering to himself. I was gripping my roughly woven cloak so hard that I could feel the individual threads. I stared at the ground, studying the small rocks at my feet. I was afraid to raise my head. Jesus had not come out yet – what were they doing to him? What would they do to me, if I were caught as well? Could I leave safely without drawing attention? I began to slowly edge away from the crowd in a slow-motion attempt to escape the crowd, when I heard for the third time “He’s a Galilean! He’s a follower of this Jesus!” “NO!” I said loudly, “I do not know him! You are wrong!” As I finished my words, I heard a cock crow somewhere nearby, and realized this was not the first time the cock had called out. I remembered Jesus’ words, that I would betray him three times before the cock crowed twice. At this, I sank to the ground and buried my head in my hands. My tears ran down my cheeks like small rivers. I had betrayed my Lord, just as he had said. I was weak, so very, very weak, and so unworthy. I left the area to be alone.

The next day the rest of the disciples and I were in the prelate’s courtyard. I witnessed the spectacle of my master, bloodied and staggering as if half-dead. I wanted to go to him, but my fear held me in place. I realized that events were beyond my control. All I could do was to try to catch Jesus’ eye, to try to let him know that he wasn’t alone in his agony. It was hard to see where he was looking, as the blood was dripping down over his face, obscuring his vision. That crown! I wanted to smash it into the faces of the guards who were laughing at my Lord. How dare they! I sought Jesus’ face through the constantly shifting crowd, frantically trying to communicate with him, but he was alone. He had gone into some place inside, had committed himself to the process before him. He warned us this would happen, but I did not want to hear his words. I could not believe that my Lord would be subject to such punishment. Why did I not listen when I had the time?

I followed Mary and the others to the crucifixion site. I watched as each nail was pounded into his hands, and I felt each nail as if it were mine. I wanted to run forward, take those hammers, and pay back his torturers with the same treatment! I wanted to cry out against the injustice, to mingle my cries with others, but all I could manage was wrenching sobs. We disciples clung to each other, holding Mary and each other, not believing the sight before us. Jesus raised on a cross, with blood and dirt and raw wounds covering his body! His arms were stretched out, body hanging forward, legs twisted. I had memories of those arms outstretched to others, with a smile on his face. Now, his face was covered in blood and grimacing with the pain. Would that I would be hanging on the cross instead of him! The darkness gathering overhead mirrored the darkness I felt. My heart was showing on my face, and Jesus happened to look over and see me. For a moment, we stared into each other’s eyes and shared each other’s pain. Then he was gone again, into that private place within him. I continued in my anguish, and our vigil continued.

Suddenly, he cried out, and it took me a moment to place his words. He had said, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Knowing who he was, this surprised me. He, of all people, should know that God would not abandon him! What was he doing, quoting scripture from the cross? Then I remembered the psalm, the scripture with those words, and my heart was both glad and broken as I remembered what was in those words. I looked around and saw that I was not the only one who had recognized the words, and the looks on the faces nearby revealed that Jesus was still reaching out to people, even as his hours on this earth were coming to a close.

I don’t remember much of the next few hours. I remember the endless tears on my cheeks, until I ran out of tears and my sadness retreated to a small knot within my heart. I looked at the other disciples, and they were like lost sheep without a shepherd. Jesus told me that I was a rock. I do not feel like a rock, nor do I feel rock-like in any way. What did he mean? I felt there pieces of a puzzle missing; surely Jesus would not leave me clueless as to how I would complete his wishes? I also felt lost and alone, and I looked again towards the cross, and again I found Jesus gazing uponme. I could not discern the message in his eyes. His strength failed him again, and I watched a shudder pass through his body and his eyes close. John took Mary to the feet of Jesus, and he awakened and said a few words. Mary’s head dropped and John put his arms around her and brought her back to us. I held onto James and John and Mary, and we prayed together. Suddenly Jesus cried out again and his eyes closed for the last time. Mary, shrieking, ran to his feet and clung to his feet and legs, the blood running down her hands and arms. The ground seemed to shake and even the Roman guards stopped taunting him.

Time continued to march on, and patterns must be maintained. Passover was almost upon us, and we could not leave Jesus where he was during the holy day. We found a tomb for him, but could not properly prepare him. Mary kept saying over and over how wrong this was, and that she would come back and give him the respect he deserved. Her grief was overwhelming us, even as our own grief was swallowing our souls. We worried for her sanity, and had to drag her away from the tomb and remove her son’s blood from her clothes and allow her to bathe. Being out in public was not something that was safe at this time. I made sure that everyone got inside for the Passover, even as my heart was in the tomb with my Lord.

My name was Simon. Now, I am Peter.