The Last Beatitude: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
“Blessed are those who have not seen me, and yet believe”.
These words are the last of the sayings of Christ recorded in the Gospels which we call beatitudes, as they begin with the words, “Blessed are those…” The first beatitudes belong to the Sermon on the Mount: blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the pure in heart, and so forth. Now, however, after the Resurrection, there comes what +Michael Ramsey liked to call “the last Beatitude”: “Blessed are those who have not seen me, and yet believe”. In my mind, this is perhaps the most important of all the beatitudes, for each and every one of us is included in its promised blessing.
Yet, the context in which this blessing is given is significant. It is spoken to the apostle Thomas… doubting Thomas. This was the Thomas who was not present at the earlier post-resurrection appearances of Christ. He was skeptical of the stories he had heard from the women and the other disciples. He brooded. He hesitated. He finally declared that his eyes must see and his hands must touch the wounds of Jesus if he is to believe. He was not interested in a religious apparition, or in a God who played tricks with flesh and blood. Only the reality of the wounds would convince him.
We all know the rest of the story. A week later, Thomas is with the other disciples when Christ appears among them. “Thomas, come and see, come and touch…” At this, Thomas falls to his knees and makes a declaration of faith that goes far beyond that of the other disciples as he says to Christ, “My Lord and My God…” The answer of Jesus, his last beatitude, reaches beyond Thomas to all of us: “Thomas, because you have seen me, you believe. Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet believe.”
Our faith, however, unlike that of Thomas, is not based upon touch or sight. On the other hand, our faith is similar to that of Thomas in that we cannot recognize the person of Christ apart from the wounds of the Cross. Note that when Christ was raised from the dead, it did not mean that the Cross was left behind. Far from it, the risen Lord is always the one who was once crucified. I would contend that we can never really know or serve the risen Christ apart from the reality of the Cross. As Bernard of Clairvaux said, “We must still repent of the sins which wounded Him”. Likewise, we must still seek Him in those that suffer and serve Christ in them.
St. Martin of Tours, the soldier-saint, had a vision as he was praying. There appeared before him a blazing light in which there appeared a radiant, joyful figure, robed like a king with a jeweled crown and gold embroidered shoes. The figure spoke and said: “Martin, do you recognize me? I am Christ. I am about to descend to the earth, and I am showing myself to you first.” Martin did not reply. A moment or two later the voice went on: “Martin, why do you hesitate to believe me? I am Christ.” Finally Martin replied: “The Lord Jesus did not foretell that he would come in purple and crowned in gold. I will not believe that Christ is come unless I see him in the form in which he suffered. Show me the wounds of the Cross if you be the Christ.” At this, the apparition of the deceiver vanished.
There is the heart of the matter. If the faith of Christ is to prevail it will not be through a “triumphalist” church, nor will it be through the machinations of a “political” church angling for secular power and influence. The church that will prevail is that which can truly be called the Body of Christ, for it bears the wounds of the Cross, the marks of sacrifice.
I’m convinced that much of what we see and hear claiming to be “the Church” in actuality has very little to do with the Body of Christ. All too often the Cross and self-sacrificing love has been set aside or traded for entertainment, cultural debates, or national politics and the like. Pastors and priests put themselves forward as social commentators, pseudo-scientists or medical experts. Claims of “persecution” are now based upon mask wearing and common sense health precautions. Perhaps worst of all, the wounds that are to be seen, are not the marks of sacrifice, but the self-inflicted wounds of abuse, conspiratorial fantasies and financial malfeasance.
Yes, the last beatitude spoken to Thomas is for us, as those who have not seen and yet believe, but only if our faith is in the one who still bears the marks of sacrificial love.