Second Sunday of Easter

Seeing is believing

Girl on someone's shoulders uses fingers as play binoculars
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April 16, 2023

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Commentary on John 20:19-31

For too many, the major focus of this text has been the reaction of Thomas, often called the doubter. But this is a resurrection text. The theme of resurrection is predominant throughout this passage. John is not satisfied with narrating the events of the morning, the message of the risen Christ travels through the day and here, he gives an account of the events of the evening as experienced by the disciples.

Once again there is a juxtaposition of themes, this time of fear and peace. The disciples are huddled together in fear behind locked doors and Jesus comes into their midst with a word of peace. Shalom! The word itself has multiple meanings, one of which can reflect a simple hello. However, the writer of John’s gospel and the modern-day interpreter must consider Jesus’ greeting as the much stronger word of peace, offered in his greeting to the disciples. The greeting is said twice, perhaps for emphasis, or perhaps because the disciples were so awe-struck that they could not respond to Jesus’ first salutation.

This word of peace from the resurrected one is necessary to calm the disciples’ fear, to settle their hearts and minds that are still caught in the grip of doubt and unbelief, first at the unexpected outcome of Jesus’ ministry: his crucifixion, then at the still-unbelievable story told by Mary Magdalene. Those human events were sufficient to erode any sense of security or peace they might have felt as disciples of Jesus and instead instill fear into their hearts. The text says that they are in fear of the Jews, and it is important that this notation is not over-emphasized to support an antisemitic bias.

In the midst of their naturally unsettled state that resulted from or caused their fear, they are overwhelmed by Jesus’ appearance. D. Cameron Murchison notes that for the gathered disciples on that first Easter evening, “Without explanation, Jesus is among them speaking directly to their fear: ‘Peace be with you.’ Not once but twice Jesus gives the greeting (verses 19, 21), inevitably recalling the words of comfort that he had spoken at the Last Supper.”1 Caught in the grip of fear, the disciples and all people need to experience the peace of Christ in their hearts in order to set aside the paralysis that holds them bound. Regardless of the messages brought by Mary Magdalene, the disciples cannot be at ease, but instead cower in hiding, needing desperately to experience a sense of peace to overcome their fear. It is a situation that is common to all of us as human beings, that when fear takes hold of us, we can do little or nothing to overcome it ourselves.

Peace not only brings calm, but it also brings light where darkness once reigned, it helps to restore order when there has been disruption in our lives. Clayton J. Schmit writes, “The human mind searches for order: to make sense of things, to understand the world, to organize all the data that comes to our awareness.”2 The gathered disciples and Thomas are caught in the vortex of events that are out of their control, while having a great impact on their lives and their well-being. This results in turmoil that affects their hearts and minds, and fear is the natural, human result. Jesus’ words of peace are necessary and critical to the disciples on that Easter evening. And in the same way that he offers a word of peace to the disciples, so too Jesus offers peace to Thomas when unbelief and turmoil takes hold of him as he is confronted by the account of Jesus’ resurrection that seems totally unbelievable. In some readings of the text, Thomas’ unbelief has been applied to Jesus’ resurrection itself. However, what Thomas is questioning is the story offered by his friends. Jesus offers Thomas the opportunity to have the proof that he said he required, but once Jesus speaks, Thomas pays homage to Jesus’ divinity. Jesus recognizes the human failing for what it is: seeing is believing. In effect, Jesus questions Thomas’ faith.

The reality for our lives as Christians is that too often, we are confronted by questions of faith and we make promises of future faithfulness to Christ, if only Christ will provide the proof of his presence. When we are overcome by fear, we are wont to look to the world for the peace that we need. Referring to this Johannine text, Murchison notes: “The peace that is not offered by the world is the peace that comes from the knowledge that, in spite of all the hurt and harm the world can and does inflict, God’s compassion and care embodied in Jesus stands again in their midst, the crucifixion notwithstanding.”3 That is what Jesus’ appearance to the disciples and to Thomas brought into being.

Many individuals, avowed Christians, look to sources outside of Christ for the peace that they require for their lives. We live in a world that is rife with turmoil and there are upheavals globally, nationally, socially, in the church, in our homes and in our lives. Many of the challenges that confront us in life cause fear to arise in our hearts and we try to bring order by our own strength. The answer to all our fears lies with Jesus. Upheavals and disorder are a natural part of life, but with the peace of Christ in our hearts, we can face the disruptions to our inner peace, and by faith in Christ we can receive again and always the word that comes directly from the risen Christ: Peace be with you.


  1. D. Cameron Murchison, “Theological Perspective of John 20: 19-31” in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 Lent through Eastertide, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 396.
  2. Clayton J. Schmit, “Homiletical Perspective of John 20: 19-31” in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 Lent through Eastertide, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 395.
  3. Murchison, 396.