The Ninth Beatitude

In response, Jesus told Thomas, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Thomas came to believe because he saw the risen Lord, but Jesus did not praise Thomas’ pathway to faith; rather, he pronounced a blessing upon those who have not seen the risen Jesus yet have believed in him nevertheless. These are those who hear or read the witness to Jesus borne by the disciples and confirmed by the Spirit (15:26–27). This is the second pronunciation of blessing by Jesus in the form of a beatitude in the Fourth Gospel (cf. 13:17: “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.”)

Now Jesus did many other signs. Verses 30–31 form a conclusion, the ending to the original edition of the Gospel. What the evangelist has written — which is not all that he could have written — is meant to urge and strengthen belief in Jesus as the Christ — and as the Son of God. John has already given us this profession in 11:27 on the lips of Martha in the context of another raising from the dead. To live, to really live, is to believe this: that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah. Vere homo, vere Deus.  Truly man, truly God.

..that through this belief… John’s theology becomes evident through observing the reactions of the participants. How do they arrive at belief in the risen Lord? In the opening scene, Mary, a minor character, sees the stone moved from the tomb. Her reaction is the natural one: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb” (v. 2). She does not yet believe.

Peter and the Beloved Disciple, the central actors, proceed to the tomb with haste (and hope). They see the burial clothes and head wrapping. Peter remains perplexed, but the response of the Beloved Disciple is one of faith. “He saw and believed” (v. 8). This loved and loving disciple saw only the minimum yet believed.

In the following scene (vv. 11–18), Mary now becomes a major character. She still holds the natural explanation (vv. 13, 15 repeat the substance of v. 2). She comes to faith only when she has heard (v. 16) and seen the Lord (v. 18). Jesus’ sheep recognize his voice (10:4).

The disciples, introduced in Scene 2, become central in the scene that follows (vv. 19–25). Beginning in a state of fear, they pass from fear to joy “when they saw the Lord” (v. 20). For them, too, faith comes through seeing.

Thomas, a minor character in verses 19–25, becomes central in the final scene. His stance is one of extreme incredulity. He will not believe unless he sees and touches (v. 25). And so Jesus invites him to faith through sight and touch (v. 27).

The evangelist is reviewing all these varying reactions and possibilities for people of his own time. What will be their reaction, continued reaction, to the resurrection? Will it be the perplexity of Peter? Will it be that of the Beloved Disciple, who, united so intimately with his Lord in love, believed immediately with minimum evidence? Will it be that of Mary Magdalene and the other disciples, who believed only when they saw and heard? Will they be like Thomas, who refused to believe unless he saw and touched, unless placed in a position in which unbelief became impossible? The evangelist is saying to his own fellow Christians: “Those first disciples were by no means exemplary, nor was their situation so fortunate. Faith was almost forced upon them. That is not something to be envied. Our own situation can be more positive, more profitable, more Christian. Let us follow the example of the Beloved Disciple, who believed with such little evidence. We can be gifted with the “ninth” beatitude: ‘Blest are they who have not seen and have believed’ (v. 29). And indeed, blest are we who, without seeing, believe in the risen Jesus, our Lord and our God.”

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