Today we celebrate the evangelist of the fourth gospel, Saint John. As magnificent as his gospel, so elusive is the saint. He never names himself in his gospel; he appears as “the other disciple” or “the one whom Jesus loved.” He plays Horatio to Jesus’ Hamlet, a witness who remembers everything and announces it to the world.
We have a saying, “Seeing is believing” but we might ask. “What did John see?” especially in today’s gospel. He saw only the empty crypt and the shroud neatly rolled and set aside.
The philosopher John Macmurray postulated that touch is more important than vision. Seeing may be cool, remote and often uncertain; mirrors, mirages and optical illusions may distort one’s vision. But touch is immediate and certain. Action necessarily meets resistance in contact with objects, a resistance which may help or hinder one’s intentions. If I intend to move this book I will first have to feel its weight, dimensions and textures in my hand before I can move it.John witnessed the Lord in his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, but – perhaps more importantly – he leaned upon his breast at the Last Supper. Like Mary Magdalene who clung to Jesus when he appeared to her, John had an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus. His witness was more than visual.
Catholics celebrate that tactile experience of the Lord, especially in our sacraments. We are baptized in water, anointed with olive oil, forgiven by hands placed on our heads and wedded as human bodies. We eat his flesh and drink his blood during the Eucharist. Our belonging to Jesus is more than a signature on a piece of paper and more than nodding agreement about a particular opinion or doctrine. It is just as tactile as the Sign of Peace.
In his Gospel and his First Letter, Saint John the Evangelist reminds us of our immediate knowledge of Jesus:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life