The Apostle Thomas has been caricatured as “doubting Thomas,” but that’s unfair, and it’s inaccurate. I think the opposite is true. Thomas is heroic and exemplary. There are two scenes in the gospels prior to what we’ve just read that shed light on Thomas. One is when Jesus was trying to say “good-bye” to his disciples, just prior to his being seized in the garden at Gethsemane. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled…. I go to prepare a place for you… and you know where I am going….” No. Not so. Not at least for Thomas. It seems only Thomas had the courage to admit that he is clueless. “My Lord,” Thomas says, “We don’t have the slightest idea where you are going! How can we know the way?”[i] (It’s a good question; an honest question for us, too. How can we know the way, especially when the path is dark and the risks are many, and the fear is great, and the route is unsure?) How can we know the way?
Another glimpse of Thomas is in an earlier scene when Jesus first said to the apostles that he would return to Judea because his friend Lazarus had died.[ii] They knew full well the death threats for Jesus (and probably also for them). Many of the other apostles protested Jesus’ plan. Not all. The brothers James and John were very eager to return to Jerusalem because they were convinced Jesus was going to be crowned king, and so they eagerly asked to sit on his right hand and his left.[iii] But it was Thomas who pleaded with his fellow disciples, “Let us go that we may die with Him!”[iv]
Perhaps more than any other disciple, Thomas was prepared to die with Jesus all along. Thomas had been following a Messiah whom Thomas knew would suffer and die. Not true, it seems, for the other disciples. In the Upper Room, when the resurrected Jesus had first appeared to the other disciples who were hiding, Thomas was not hiding with them: neither hiding his willingness nor his readiness to serve His crucified Lord, even to the point of being captured and killed for Christ’s sake. What exactly Thomas was doing that evening, when all the other disciples were huddled together, we don’t know. But given the evidence, we could well surmise that Thomas was out doing what he had always done with and for Jesus: helping, healing, feeding, loving, speaking in the name and love and power of Jesus.
And so when Thomas later meets up with the disciples, and they tell him the incredible, impossible news that Jesus has appeared to them, alive, Thomas is incredulous. Thomas knows these other disciples. He knows their arguments, their betrayals, their blindness, their duplicity, their deafness, their hardness of heart. Could he possibly trust their report? No. Clearly not. He doubted their experience, because their experience was not his experience. It didn’t ring true. With such transparent candor, Thomas says, “Unless I see in Jesus’ hands the print of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe. ” And so it was. Not until Thomas had personally, physically, undeniably seen and been touched by Jesus was he, Thomas, willing and bold to respond, “My Lord and my God.”
You may be asking yourself this Eastertide, “Where is the risen Lord among the war-torn areas of the world, or where people live under tyranny or terror? Where is the risen Lord amid all of the sufferring that surrounds us and fills our lives and wounds our hearts? And you may find yourself doubting that Jesus is anywhere in sight. Second-hand information is not enough. We need to be able to personally touch and know and experience Jesus’ life and love at work in our own world and in our own lives to be able to believe in a risen Jesus. Someone has said that “faith is a series of doubts vanquished by love.” That is the personal evidence we all need. What to do? Follow Thomas’ example. Thomas, rather than being a “doubting dunce,” is actually a faithful guide to us all:
- For one, name your doubts; pray your doubts and pray your desires. Ask Jesus for what you need to experience to know he is alive and really present.
- Secondly, draw from your own miracle memory how you have experienced life coming out of death in the past. How have you known, undeniably, Jesus’ resurrection presence and provision and power in the past?
- Thirdly, do what Thomas did when he extended his hands to touch Jesus. We’re actually doing that this morning as we extend our hands to receive Jesus’ body and his blood. It’s a living reminder of what Jesus told us to do, one of the ways Jesus is really present to us now.
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