A while back I read a classic summer beach novel – you know the ones: easy to read, entertaining, no heavy lifting required … and no I don’t remember the title. But I remember this, there are good guys being chased by bad guys. The good guys are only armed with their wit, imagination, guile, luck, and their paranoid friend who believes every conspiracy theory is true. The premise is that everything in the world has a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip embedded in it. When the good guys decide to use cash only so that they stay off the grid, it doesn’t matter because their credit cards and driver’s licenses have RFID chip that, although still unused in their wallets and purses, are detected by the RFID scanner at the checkout counter. As the novel races along the bad guys track the good guys via RFID. The good guys keep emptying their lives getting rid of toll road passes, cell phones, driver’s licenses, credit cards, passports, access badges for work, the groceries and clothes they just purchased for cash… and still the bad guys keep coming. Holy guacamole! There is no place to hide! The bad guys can pick then out of a crowd of a gazillion people. As we read, we cheer for the good guys, we get involved, as if we really and deeply know them. It is as though we can really see them!
“Seeing and believing” is the question at the core of many of the readings and gospels during the Easter season. How much do we need to see in order to believe? Last week the Apostle Thomas declared he would not believe until he saw and touched the risen Lord. In this week’s gospel, Jesus says (almost pleads): “‘And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet…” It is the human demand that we see something before we believe something. Well…sometimes it is the human demand.
Technology + fiction + a story well told = we no longer need to see to believe. Anyone here seen an RFID signal? No? I guess our unspoken motto is “Believe in the Tech and… and …. It will set you, ahhhh…, free?….” Why is unseen technology so believable and God is unbelievable to so many people? Or maybe believable, but we are about as invested in God as we are RFID tech – it’s there when we need it, otherwise we don’t give it thought until the bad guys are tracking us down. What’s with that? Why are we that way?
Maybe it is because technology is useful to us, it’s impersonal and so we are not required to emotionally invest in it, and we think we can control it. God can’t be controlled, asks of us a deeply personal relationship in which we are invested, a relationship that makes demands of us, and those demands are often not useful or convenient. We won’t take such demands from a stranger, someone who doesn’t know us. Maybe that is the dynamic. I wonder if many of us are thinking “how could God possibly know me, really know me?” How could Christ possibly love me, have died for me and my sins? How could God pick me out of a crowd of a gazillion people – and love me? What does he know about my life? You know what?… I’ll believe it when I see it.” And there’s the rub. The demand to see, to know, to experience something very personal in the One who is Lord and Savior.
Did you know that not one single Resurrection story involved a stranger? Not once did the Risen Christ appear to someone who did not know him, someone who would not recognize in him something very personal… the sound of his voice/Mary Magdalen, the wounds in his hands/Thomas, the compassion in his eyes/the disciple whom Jesus loved, the experience of forgiveness/Peter. Life is all there is the stories of Jesus, right there in the Bible. In today’s gospel, Jesus is having a fish dinner with the disciples – probably licking his fingers and picking fish bones from his teeth. It’s personal.
This is Jesus who grew in a womb, slept in a manger, nursed and was weaned. Who grew up to scrape his knees, get lost in the Temple, and learned a trade from Joseph. This is Jesus who was baptized in the Jordan, hungered for bread in the wilderness, weeps at his friend’s grave, turned over tables in the Temple, appreciated scented oils on his feet and head, sweat blood in the garden of Gethsemane, and died on a Roman cross. All things common to human life including death – but he rose from the dead. After all that he finds his friends to send them into the world.
For millennia we as a community have continued to tell the story of Jesus, of Easter, of the apostles and disciples of the early church, so that in the telling of the story again and again, each one of us might begin to know Jesus. That in the many stories, each one of us might find something very personal, something that deeply connects us to Jesus. Connects you the one who picks you out from among the gazillions. The One for whom you’d change your life.
In a way the gospel is like that summer beach novel. Only in this story, it’s the Good Guy who keeps coming, relentless and unshakable. Holy guacamole! There is no place to hide! The Good Guy picks you out of a crowd of a gazillion people because you are no stranger to Him.
The Bible as summer beach novel? Maybe that should be your next read. Spoiler alert: the good guys win, the world is saved, and the hero of the story knows you – and loves you, forgives you, and wants to be with you for all eternity. Have a read and the midst of all those pages, find the one very personal story that deeply connects you to Jesus so that he is stranger no longer.
Get to know the hero of this story. And in knowing, believe and in believing, be witness.