We sometimes envy the apostles and the first disciples. We are convinced that they had an advantage over all later Christians because they were actually present at the events related in the Gospels. They saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes, and touched him with their hands. Therefore, faith was easy for them. And we are convinced that it would
be easy for us too if only we could see Jesus personally, as the apostles did, or if only we could see for ourselves the miracles he performed, as the first disciples did.
Yes, the first disciples had the advantage of seeing Jesus with their own eyes. But did that make faith any easier for them? When they looked at Jesus what did they see? They did not and could not have seen God, for God is not immediately visible and knowable. In Jesus they saw a human being ostensibly like themselves. But to go from there to believe that he was the Son of God required a huge act of faith.
This accounts for the fact that there were many who heard Jesus speak and who saw him act, who did not believe in him. Even the apostles themselves, who had been with him from the beginning, are shown to be slow to believe. Seeing is not necessarily believing.
The shock caused by his passion and death on the cross was so great that the apostles were slow to believe in the news of the Resurrection. When Jesus appeared to them on Easter evening, he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.
Where does all this leave us? We can’t see Jesus the way the apostles saw him. We can’t be present in the upper room going over the events of Holy Week when Jesus drops in. We can’t put our finger in the wounds of Jesus. We can’t look into his face and say, “My Lord, and my God.” We must live by faith, not by sight. Yet if we would believe in Jesus we must see him somehow. But just how may people like us see Jesus? What must we do in order to believe?
We are disciples at second hand. For the disciple at second hand, things are harder in some ways, but easier in others. Things are harder because twenty centuries have gone by since Jesus walked the earth. A lot of dust has gathered. The light has dimmed. But on the positive side, the notion that the Son of God walked the earth has become “naturalized” over time, and so in some ways has become easier to believe. But at the end of the day, all disciples are essentially equal – all have to make the leap of faith. We become disciples through faith.
The friends of Jesus saw him and heard him only a few times after that Easter day, but their lives were completely changed. And by sharing their faith our lives will be changed too. We are able to travel in hope because we know that good will triumph over evil, and life will triumph over death, because Jesus is risen.
I pray and hope that all of you will be blessed this Easter with the gifts of faith, hope, and love.