Thomas hasn’t had a great press down the years, precisely because of the episode described in the Gospel reading for today.
From this, we get the term ‘doubting Thomas’, used to describe someone who is irrationally doubtful about an obvious truth. But maybe we are being a little too hard on Thomas. Holy Scripture alludes to this fact by telling us that Thomas was a twin.
Obviously he was used to being mistaken for his twin and it was logical to him that perhaps the disciples merely saw someone who looked like Jesus and was not actually him. Only the real Jesus would bear the marks of the crucifixion, and this was what Thomas demanded to see.
The first mention of Thomas in John’s Gospel comes at the death of Lazarus, in John 11, when Jesus was about to go to Judaea. His first foray into Judaea had managed to upset the religious authorities to such an extent, that they now actively sought his life. To go back there was madness to the disciples, but Thomas simply says,
“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas clearly was a devoted disciple. He was prepared to put his own life on the line in following his master. This is not the action of someone who is not able to grasp the truth.
The next time we see Thomas is at the point where Jesus is explaining his departure to the disciples in John 14, in that very familiar reading which is often used at funerals, to remind us that death is not the end. Jesus tells the disciples that they know the way to the place where he is going.
Thomas pipes up,
“Lord we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Only Thomas is brave enough to verbalise what all the disciples must be thinking. Jesus is speaking in obscure terms, and Thomas for one, wants to be clear about his meaning. There is something very honest about Thomas here. He will not just pretend to understand or know something, he is going to understand for himself everything that is involved.
The next mention of Thomas is as related in the reading for today. Thomas clearly was a devoted disciple, perhaps one of the most devoted. However when it all hit the fan, Thomas broke and ran with the rest of the disciples and left Jesus to his fate.
Why was Thomas not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared to them? Maybe he was still running. Maybe he was so distraught at the death of Jesus and his own failure to act, that he needed to be alone for a while to grieve.
Then, as is the case with all of us, when someone close to us dies, he needed to be in the company of those who knew Jesus well, to share stories, to grieve together, to work out a way forward.
Only now he found them not grieving, but rejoicing, and telling him that they had seen Jesus alive.
This was too much for Thomas. The other disciples must have gone crazy being cooped up all by themselves. Thomas, called the twin, thought that there must be a logical explanation for what they were saying. Thomas who always sought clarification, needed the most extreme clarification now before he would believe.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Even though he thought they were mistaken, Thomas hung around with the disciples, and eventually the Risen Christ appeared to him as well. He didn’t scold him for not believing, but gave him usual Jewish greeting – “Shalom – peace be with you.”
Then he showed Thomas his wounds and invited him to touch them. Thomas’ response is instantaneous, “My Lord and my God.”
Jesus tells him that he has believed because he has seen, but blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed.
I admire Thomas’ ability to question and just accept things at face value, because it opens the doors for us to do the same. The life of faith is not just about blindly accepting what others tell you. It is also about experience – experience of the living Christ, who doesn’t rebuke us for our doubts or our lack of faith.
Through his wounds he enters into our suffering because he has been there himself. He knows what it is to be abandoned, rejected and let down by those closest to him. But he has overcome all that and he will in us overcome all our doubts, fears and wounding.
I wonder what doubts or fears we have this evening as we gather in the presence of the Risen Christ. We are here because he has called us, and if he has called us then he wants us. Yet we come with feelings of inadequacy, rejection, personal hurt and low self esteem. We find it hard to believe that we could deserve the grace he offers. But Jesus Christ died and rose again so that the whole world in all its diversity could be reconciled to him. His grace is freely offered to all who would accept, so called deserving and undeserving. This is the Christ who gave Judas the traitor bread from the table of the last supper, who answered Thomas’ questions and doubts, who forgave Peter the denier. He will minister to you and I too and accept us exactly as we are, exactly as they way God made us.
The Risen Christ stands before us today with all his wounds showing and invites us to believe. There is nothing that he cannot achieve in us and through us if we believe in him. The derision, the rejection the hurt that we endure in this life is turned around and transformed in the presence of the living Christ, who comes to us and comforts us with the words “Peace be with you – do not doubt, but believe.”
May our doubts also be transformed in the presence of the living Christ to “My Lord and my God!”
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Wednesday 3 July 2013.