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The Unfinished Story

By Jim Taylor

 

John 20:19-31

 

You’ve probably heard that story of “Doubting Thomas” enough times that you already know the moral of the story – believe in Jesus even if all you know about Jesus is what various ministers have told you over the years. You’ve never encountered him personally, but you’re supposed to believe in him anyway.

 

You’ll be glad to know that I’m not going to preach on that theme.

 

Rather, I want to draw your attention to a line that you may have missed in that familiar story of Doubting Thomas: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

 

The gospel admits what we all know intuitively – this book cannot be the end of the story.

 

At the church Joan and I attended in Toronto, we had for a few years a non-stop reading of the Bible. We started at 6:00 p.m., and took shifts reading aloud through the night. It takes about 18 hours to read the whole New Testament, a little over six hours for all four gospels. How could three years of teaching and healing be condensed into just six hours? Only by leaving a lot out.

 

The Bible, you see, did not come down from heaven on a silver platter, complete and unabridged. There are 66 books between these covers. And they were all CHOSEN, by SOMEONE, to be part of what we now call The Holy Bible. See, it says so on the front.

 

Paul didn’t choose which of his letters got included. Jesus didn’t approve the parables attributed to him.

 

None of the Bible was written while it was happening. None of it.

 

If you treat the Bible as literal truth, as Archbishop James Ussher did several centuries ago, you could trace the first events in the Bible back to around 4004 B.C.

 

In reality, most of the stories in Genesis, the stories of the warrior Judges and Kings – including David and Solomon -- weren’t written down at all until the Jewish Exile. That happened around 600 B.C. Jewish leaders were afraid that traditions that been handed down orally for 1,000 years, the stories that bound them together as a people, would be forgotten, would get lost, in the foreign culture they had been forcibly relocated into.

 

So they wrote the stories down. A few of those we call the prophets – such as Amos and Jeremiah – may have dictated parts of their own stories. But it’s more likely that their teachings were written down later by their students, who spliced together bits and pieces of their teachings.

 

That has to be the case for Isaiah. Because there probably were three Isaiahs. The first wrote during the time BEFORE Babylon conquered the Hebrews; the second wrote DURING the Exile, when hopes rose that the Hebrew people would be allowed to return home; and the final section came AFTER their return, as they wondered why they’d had to endure so much misery. Isaiah, whoever they were, could not have been the same author in all three periods.

 

Similarly, the earliest gospel, Mark, was probably written around 50 years after Jesus died. Matthew and Luke, about ten years later. John, maybe another ten years after that – and possibly written to correct some misimpressions in the earlier gospels.

 

So, the Bible has never been a closed book. It has always been open to new insights, new experiences, new stories.

 

Until a bunch of bishops decided, around 350 A.D., that enough was enough. They established what’s called the “canon,” the collection of texts would be the Bible; nothing more could or would be added. They left out the Gospel of Thomas, for example. And the Gospel of Mary. The gospel of John, which Arlene read earlier, barely made it into the official text.

 

At that point, the Bible was closed. It had a front cover, and it had a back cover. And that was it – period. Full stop.

 

But John says, “Jesus did many other things which are NOT written in this book.”

 

So it can’t be, and shouldn’t be, a closed book. It shouldn’t have a back cover at all.

RIP BACK COVER OFF

 

We should think of the Bible as a story that is still being written. By Francis of Assisi and Julian of Norwich. By Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu. And by non-Christians, like Mahatma Gandhi and the Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh. And even by professed atheists like Carl Sagan and Lyall Watson.

 

And by us. By you and me.

 

When you share your God Moments with this community, you are telling the world that God did not hang up the phone in 325 AD. God is still teaching us, and still listening to us.

 

A member of the Christian Reformed Church – a conservative denomination that still holds services in Dutch and takes the Bible literally – took the risk of saying that God gave us TWO testaments. Not just one. There’s the written testament, the Bible. And there’s the living testament, the world of nature and science.

We need, this man insisted, to pay attention to both of them. Treating only one of them as authoritative, he suggested, is like trying to walk on one leg. Without crutches.

 

And so what did Jesus do, that’s not recorded in this book? I think John makes that fairly clear – more of the same. More stories like the one he just told us, about Doubting Thomas setting aside his skepticism, his disbelief.

 

Thomas wanted proof, not fairy tales. Thomas should be the patron saint of all scientists, who keep questioning the conventional answers. The old answers may indeed be true. Or they may not. The only way to find out is to test them.

 

Jesus offered exactly that kind of proof. Put your finger here, he said… Touch me… Feel my wounds… Thomas was convinced. “My Lord and My God,” he blurted. Jesus replies, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

 

That’s us. We’re not going to have the privilege of feeling Jesus’ flesh, of checking his fingerprints, of testing his DNA. He doesn’t have a Driver’s License to show as government-issued ID. Can we believe, nonetheless?

 

We’re the story that isn’t in John’s gospel. We’re the story that’s still being written. We’re the continuation of the Bible, the book that isn’t closed.

 

I suggest to you that your interactions with the people who come into the Thrift Shop, or over Community Coffee on Tuesday mornings, or in the parking lot at Costco, are each telling the world, in their own way, the continuing story of Jesus.

           

Even by the most inconsequential of acts, you reveal the person you take as “My Lord and My God.”

 

You are what broadcaster Paul Harvey used to call, “the rest of the story.”


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