I've just opened a reverse-telemarketing company. Basically, I've got a phone number that's deliberately white-listed as a residential address, easily accessible through the Internet, clearly marked as "one of those suckers who'll buy things off you". Then when somebody phones up from an anonymous number and tells me they're not trying to sell me something, I introduce them to our wide range of tea lights and essential oils for meditation, with free delivery for orders over £15. It's doing quite well, although I suspect quite a lot of them are paying with their previous victims' credit card numbers.
John's Gospel is emphatically not like one of those cold-callers who assure you repeatedly that they're not trying to sell you something. John's Gospel, from beginning to end, is trying to sell you Jesus Christ. This Gospel is not the equivalent of a Church that conceals its ulterior motive under the pretence it's a book-club, a coffee shop or a children's drop-in centre. I remember when the Beaker Folk opened up the first Mrs Whimsey's Doily Shop. By clever marketing and obscuring our true nature, it was many years before most customers realised that, by laying out one of our doilies and putting a jug of water on it, they were engaging in our most sacred rituals. Although, come to think of it, that probably says more about the banality of most Beaker rituals than their gullibility.
But the point I'm trying to get over, the thing I was trying to say before I was distracted by thoughts of doilies (now 30% off in our "Countdown to Mayday" sale, by the way) is this - John's Gospel is a Gospel. It's explicitly about Jesus. It goes from the Cosmic, as Life, the Universe and Everything is created through the Word - to the domestic, as a woman of no repute pours ointment on his feet - to the mythic, as we remember that this odd little act of pouring-out perfume shows that he is Christ - the Anointed One. And everything about this Gospel tells you the same story. Why does he work wonders? As signs that he is the Holy One. Why feed the people of Israel on the far side of Lake Galilee? Because he's a successor to Moses - and more. Why are we told about Thomas's trials? To show us that Jesus is the risen one. Why do we get the I Am pronouncements? To show us who He Is. Jesus is all this is about. This is a Gospel. There is good news, and it's all connected to Jesus.
The Gospels on the whole seem to be, if this isn't a fairly obvious thing to say, honest documents. They admit that even Jesus can get tired, or angry, or even say things that sound quite rude to our ears. But the authors don't seem to have the same sensitivity towards their predecessors or, even, their own friends and colleagues. I've just been reading about the new Man Utd season ticket brochure. They've had to do a bit of minor airbrushing since the first edition came out. Seems that the first picture they used - with David Moyes, the manager who was in charge up to Tuesday - needed to have poor old Moyesy removed from it. The new brochure has the same picture, sans Moyes. He is now an un-manager.
If the Gospel writers applied the same attitude, then James and John wanting to blow up a Samaritan village, struggles over who's the most important disciple, Peter's betrayal - they'd all be removed. The Holy Saints would be beautifully cleaned-up, lose their warts, keep on a beautifully even, serene keel - would all be clustered round the Cross on Good Friday. But no. They're confused, they're scared, they desert, and we're told all about it. The Gospels don't even try to protect Jesus from the accusation of bad judgement, in picking Judas in the first place. And then Thomas asks some key questions about the Resurrection, and we get to hear all about it...
Even the most gormless disciple was able to work out, given a live Jesus in front of them, that he was in fact alive again, after all that had happened. They'd not believed the women - fair enough, who believed women in them days? And then they'd been thrown into confusion by the empty tomb. But, faced with Jesus himself, alive and before them - they'd realised. They lost their grief, they were a team again. Sure, they still weren't too brave when it came to the authorities - but they knew where they were.
Thomas, he's been otherwise occupied when Jesus visited on that first Easter Sunday. Shopping, or down the pub, or just gone for a walk. The easy story for John to tell is the one that goes, "and Thomas believed as well". But John, at the expense of Thomas, is telling us more than this. Because telling us the Good news about Jesus is more important than Thomas's reputation. Even if it means the poor soul being "Doubting Thomas" for the rest of history. John gives us warts and all.
The story I hear goes like this. The women - they believe straight away. But the women, as we found out when Mary of Bethany poured the perfume on Jesus' feet - the women know who Jesus is, and they're gonna comprehend his Resurrection early. After all, they were the ones up on that Easter Sunday morning, caring for Jesus beyond any hope. They got the Resurrection, they got that he was the Messiah - after all, it was Mary who gave him the anointing that made him the Anointed One.
And then the disciples- they see Jesus that first Easter Sunday. They're glad to see the Lord. But they've been scared; they've been tired; by Sunday evening they're maybein a bit of a mystical state. You think what it's like if, in line with modern ideas of celebrating a holy day, you've been up till 2am on the Eve of the Festival, followed by the Dawn service on the festival itself. You'll believe rabbits can fly, in that kind of state. What with wish-fulfilment, self-delusion, they could, plausibly, have created a story. Unlikely. And you've got the women and - from Luke - you've got the men from Emmaus. The evidence is stacking up. The witnesses are multiplying. But still, they could.
Thomas doesn't believe. Thomas wasn't there. Thomas has no reason to believe. Thomas is a sceptic. And I don't blame him. We do the people of the First Century a disservice when we imply that they were credulous, that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection were just accepted because the people were too gormless to apply normal standards of evidence. They knew where babies came from - that's why, 33 years before Thomas's experience in an upper room, Joseph thought it was best to divorce Mary. And they knew there was a difference between dead and alive. If they thought the dead sometimes wandered the earth - and, let's face it, some people believe that today - they still knew they didn't have physical bodies when they did it. Thomas is asking for some decent evidence - not just happy emotion, not a gooey feeling that things are somehow all right. Holes in the hands - holes he can put his fingers in - a hole in Jesus' side - these are physical things. Real things. Objective, testable things.
What John's telling us is, this is no wafty "spiritual" resurrection. This is the real thing. Jesus is alive. He was dead, and now he's alive. All hope was gone, and now he's alive. As alive as you are - as alive as I am. And then beyond that, to a whole new dimension of alive. An amount of "alive" we can't even imagine. He was alive to the Marys. He was alive to Peter and the gang. And, in case you think they were all a bit in the mood for some wishful thinking, he was alive even to Thomas. Thomas, who wanted a decent standard of proof. Thomas, who after a whole week was rested, rational, coherent. Thomas, who was blessed. Because he set the bar high - and he got every proof he demanded, and proof beyond that. He got the proof that took him past any response you might have expected of him. He could have said, to the other disciples, "you're right". He could have looked at himself, and said, "I'm wrong". He did neither. He did the right thing, the logical thing - he was a logical bloke - the only thing.
His demands were met, the proof he wanted was given. He looked at the risen Jesus, he believed. He worshipped. "My Lord and My God."
How blessed we are, if we can learn from Thomas.