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Take a paper towel tube or a toilet paper one (if you can find it) and place it over your eye like a telescope. This simple toy really changes your perspective. In some ways it’s the definition of tunnel vision.
The apostles had Tunnel-vision. They were staring at one thing way too long, and that’s what got them locked up in the upper room as they were locked in their own minds. Just like the conclave that elected Pope Francis and every pope before him, the key was safely kept in the room that was locked to keep everything else (and everyone else) on the outside.
Their tunnel-vision was very understandable in many ways. They were following a rabbi who was publicly executed. And if it’s true today, it was true even more back then: who you hang out with can do a lot of good or can do a lot of harm. Thus, they saw themselves as next on the list for the cross, or perhaps some other minor punishments. Fear of public shame is a powerful thing. Fear of death even more powerful. Hence the tunnel vision.
Perhaps we could also say they had stone-vision or tomb-vision. All they could think of was that Jesus was dead. It was over. Like all of us today, any of their plans for the future were thrown out. They had to re –evaluate everything and say goodbye to so many things they enjoyed either for a month or two, or perhaps for the rest of their lives. Their vision was focused on the finality of death, on the immovability of that stone over the tomb, on the coldness and darkness of the tomb.
That’s the problem with a problem as big as a crisis. The shock gives you tunnel-vision, gives you stone-vision, tomb-vision. That new and debilitating thing becomes the only part of reality that you can see. Your mind gets locked-up on it. You get stuck inside your head as much as the Apostles were stuck inside that upper room.
But the truth is that life is bigger than the apparent finality of death. The truth is that reality is much broader than a stone or a tomb or a locked door. Tunnel-vision is a sort of lie. It looks at something as if its everything. The stone and the tomb were important parts of reality, but not the most important parts. When faced with a crisis, we end up narrowing our vision to the point that we forget the most important things.
The Apostles had forgotten that God was God. They had forgotten that Jesus had said this was going to happen. They had stopped thinking about the miracles. Their minds were blocked from considering that Jesus said “this is my body given up for you” just the past week in the same upper room. They forgot how God turned tragedy into glory for their ancestors at the Red Sea or with Abraham or with Joshua or Isaiah and Jeremiah.
If they could only take off their blinders and see the whole of reality, especially the reality of God’s providential care and his irrevocable claim on His chosen people, then perhaps they wouldn’t have been so locked-up in their own heads, their own fears, their stone-and-tomb-vision.
Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t wait for them, or for any of us, to get it all straightened out first. He breaks into the room. He reveals Himself, alive. He rips the paper towel tube right away from their faces so their vision is immediately broadened. As much as His death blinded them from so much of reality, so now His risen body, His presence re-open their minds and unlock the doors. The stone is now rolled away from their hearts. They are coming out of their own self-made tombs. They have once again found hope, hope that God can bring good even out of the horrible tragedy that is their lives, or that their tunnel-vision said was their lives.
In our current crisis, we need the same transformation. If our eyes are too focused on the problem, then we forget that reality is much broader than just the problem. We don’t see the importance of human freedom, and the fact that if we use our freedom to love, to choose the good again and again (which is to choose God again and again) then we are changing so much around the problem, this crisis, that we may in fact even end up changing the crisis from the “disaster” that it can at times seem to be, downgrading it perhaps to what we might call a “hot mess” or even down to just a “situation.” Love can do such things, because God is love. And He is real. And He is here.
And that, my friends, is the most important truth we need to learn from the Apostles and from Thomas today. When He sees that Jesus is real, that He is here, he’s done. He’s not afraid. He’s at peace. All he has to do is worship, say “My Lord and my God,” and place Himself in the Lord’s hands. When the most important part of reality is that God is still God and still involved in all of my life, then why am I afraid? When Jesus’ wounds show the merciful love of God that is greater than my sin, that is greater than death itself, why would I be afraid? I may die, but I’ve already died in baptism. I already have one foot in heaven and one foot in this world. Now I can really live because I am not afraid. Now I can really love. Now God can change the world through me, and save others from their own tunnel-vision.