What would have been an appropriate response from the Apostles if they had believed, if they had been able to plow through whatever hardness of heart was in them? Now, I realize that Jesus’ disappointment is a specific reference to his Resurrection and their failure to believe the reports.
But the statements regarding their skepticism led me to a similar, but broader question: what is an appropriate belief response from those of us living today?
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By Steve Hall
In this post-Easter period we hear the post-resurrection texts from the Gospels. The one for today was perplexing in that I couldn’t remember hearing it before. At first I thought Mark was read that often as Mark’s total Gospel is somewhat brief. So brief, in fact, that some scholars refer to it as the account of the passion with an introduction. But Mark’s brevity was not the issue. His account of the resurrection and what followed totals only twenty verses. But then, so does Matthew’s account.
John’s account is a bit longer; it contains fifty-six verses. Luke is also verbose, having fifty-three verses in the Resurrection story. But then, Luke’s total Gospel is also the longest. So I considered the text more closely only to find that several key elements were there in Mark. The women went early to the tomb. They are told that Jesus had risen. Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalen. There is a brief reference to what seemed to be Luke’s much longer story of the two travelers going to Emmaus.
In any event, something was troubling me about Mark’s text.
It should have been obvious.
So I checked out the other accounts only to find that they all supported Mark. Here are the texts from all four Evangelists that pertain to the matter at hand.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.
(Matthew 28:16-17) RSV-CE
That’s Matthew. But there’s also Luke.
But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
(Luke 24:11) RSV-CE
And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?"
(Luke 24:38-41) RSV-CE
That’s from Luke.
But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
(Mark 16:11) RSV-CE
And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.
(Mark 16:13) RSV-CE
Afterward he appeared to the Eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.
(Mark 16:14) RSV-CE
This is from Mark. Mark, more so than the others, seems to emphasizes the disciple’s failure to believe. And finally we hear from John who addresses the matter only indirectly.
Jesus said to him [Thomas], "You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."
(John 20:29) RSV-CE
This is a somewhat long introduction; but the whole business provoked me to asking what would have been an appropriate response from the Apostles if they had believed, if they had been able to plow through whatever hardness of heart was in them? Now, I realize that Jesus’ disappointment is a specific reference to his Resurrection and their failure to believe the reports. But the statements regarding their skepticism led me to a similar, but broader question: what is an appropriate belief response from those of us living today? Is there a minimum? A maximum?
Believe! It’s all throughout the Gospels. Jesus himself is concerned: "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." (John 4:48). And even at the end he is mocked by some for lack of the sign that they want: Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him (Matthew 27:42). In their obstinance they had already demanded a sign even immediately after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
While all of the Gospels emphasize the importance of faith, John’s Gospel is the most direct in explanation: He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life. (John 3:36)
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” (John 8:31)
Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)
According to John, then, belief entails continuing in Jesus word, hearing his voice, following Jesus, doing the works that Jesus himself has done. Presumably Peter and John had followed these directives as they taught about Jesus, upsetting those in charge. In fact, they make that explicit in their response: “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard." They might just as well have been shouting from the rooftops: I BELIEVE!
So what are we called to? We like to say that our witness is in our lives and that’s OK if we continue to live in his word, is we continue to hear his voice, if we continue to follow him doing the works that he has done. If that is the case then our very lives will be shouting from the rooftops and others will only wonder “Who is this guy and what makes him so different?
We’re moving into an age where every follower of Christ will have an easy opportunity to show his Christian difference. Not by becoming the modern Protestants — against trans, against homosexuality, against abortion, against gender “education” — but by our steadfast confidence in God, our obvious love of truth, and our continued reliance on hearing his voice. Are you ready?