The Apostles Failed the Final Exam

“Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

This passage has bothered me at times. I believe we can distill the following principle from this passage: it is virtuous to believe without experiential evidence. And I ask you, could there be a better tool for mass-evangelization than the teaching of virtuous blind faith? I don’t think so. 

In light of my skeptical attitude, I decided to ask God to help me to understand what he meant with this passage. So here are the fruits of those prayers. 

The Apostles, the fathers of our Catholic Church, asked us to do something that they did not. I never really noticed that until now, but the Apostles, the men who traveled with Jesus, who learned from him, who watched him feed the 5000, heard him prophesy the rebuilding of the temple in three days, who witnessed him calm the stormy seas, they did not believe until they had seen. Thomas bears the brunt of the shame, but all of his peers felt as he did, for they gathered in a lock room, afraid of the Jewish people who had just executed their leader. 

“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

The Apostles did not have to believe. They knew. And there is a massive difference between knowing and believing. 

Knowing is solid, firm, steady, reliable. Knowing is heading up for air when you’re underwater and out of breath. Knowing is dropping your keys on the dining room table with no concern that they’ll smash into the ceiling chandelier. Knowing is giving two of your four cookies to your friend and understanding that you have two left. Knowing is thoughtless. Knowing is choiceless. Knowing is easy. 

Believing is shaky, fluid, loose, unpredictable. Believing is reaching out to an old friend to reconcile an emotional grudge. Believing is putting money away for a retirement that should be worth living. Believing is pushing your chips into the center of the table and telling that girl how you feel. Believing is thoughtful. Believing is a choice. Believing is hard. 

When we see, we know. When we don’t see, we have the freedom to believe. And in that way, not seeing is actually a gift. For how virtuous is it really to have faith in a God you know is real? How much more virtuous is it to have faith in a God you choose to believe in? 

In a way, I have compassion for the Apostles. They sort of failed their final exam. They had three years to choose to believe in Jesus, and at the moment when he needed them most, they vanished. Later, Jesus reveals himself to them and breathes his spirit upon them. And then they know. There’s no more choice from that point on. They have been shown and told exactly what to do. Explicitly. Clearly. Directly. They know. 

So maybe the Apostles were filled with such zeal to evangelize because they didn’t want others to make the same mistake they made? We never get to place our fingers into the pierced side of the Risen Christ, but perhaps that is why we have a chance at redemption and salvation all these years after the events of the Passion. 

“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

So if believing is a choice, what leads a person to make that choice? 

Some of us are raised Christian. We’re taught how to pray, we learn the teachings of the Gospel, and we are encouraged to develop a relationship with Jesus. And then we get to make a choice. 

Some of us grow up without faith, or with faith in something else. We’re taught to be kind, we learn the laws that govern our society, and we are encouraged to find love in the universe. And then we get to make a choice. 

But some of us are fostered in darkness. We’re taught to fear authority, we learn how to survive amidst the chaos, and we are encouraged to protect ourselves and our families no matter the cost. And then we get to make a choice. 

How can all of us, from such different paths, from such different times, with such different backgrounds and identities and experiences, all be called to make a choice of whether or not we believe? How is that fair? How is that right?

Well, we experience with more than just our eyes. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” So what about our ears? Do we hear the cries of our Lord in those around us? What about our mouths? Do we speak powerful words without knowing where they come from? What about our bodies? Do we suffer terribly, deeply, truly, and yet feel comfort from an unseen companion? And what of our hearts? Do we love so much that it aches and we don’t understand how we could care for another more than we care for ourselves? 

Well where do those cries come from? Where do those words originate? Who is that unseen companion? And who taught us how to love like that? 

“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Maybe we haven’t seen the Risen Christ with our eyes, like Thomas and the other Apostles that night in a locked upper room, but I believe that the Risen Christ has come to each of us, regardless of our backgrounds, regardless of our circumstances, and though we may be blind to his visits, if we strain our ears, if we speak with compassion, and if we open our hearts, maybe, just maybe, we’ll gather all the experiential evidence we need. 

Do not lament your blindness, for it is our blindness that gives us this chance, this chance to choose to believe in the Risen Christ. If we knew, there would be no choice, and therefore no love. 

“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

So what’s it going to be? What’s your decision? Do you choose to believe? 

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