“Unless I see . . . I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
Seems he never lived it down.
We can appreciate that Thomas was honest and bold enough to say what he truly thought about the resurrection rumors floating around. That one moment, however, became a moniker hung around his neck that would forever cast him in the role of reluctant believer, the first skeptic, somewhat petulant and even a bit grouchy. Those are the textures of his portrait in our minds. We know him as a doubter and to this day we call him ‘doubting’ Thomas.
In the interest of fairness let’s acknowledge the following:
First, we can hardly fault Thomas for wanting to see and touch the wounds of Jesus. The evidence he’s asking for (20:25) is something that the other disciples had already seen (20:20).
Second, Thomas may strike us as demanding, but it doesn’t appear that Jesus found him to be so. Again, Jesus had already allowed the other disciples to see his wounds when he had appeared to them in Thomas’s absence. He patiently extends the same gesture to Thomas.
What Thomas is asking for is something that Jesus is only too willing to do. Jesus wants to assure and convince his followers that he is in fact alive, and this it is actually him – not a stunt double or a look-alike.
Finally, Thomas says that he must touch or handle the torn flesh of Jesus in order to believe, but there is nothing in the biblical text to suggest that he actually did so. He sees. He hears. That was all he needed. He is quick to worship, down on his face before Jesus whom he names as his Lord and God.
Changed Mind, Changed Man
I remember when Marnie announced to me that our first child was on the way. I didn’t believe it. Even after she showed me the home-test device and explained the whole one-stripe, two-stripe diagnostic reading – I still couldn’t believe it. I suggested she administer the test again. My doubt was not aimed at her in hostility or anger. Quite the opposite. My disbelief was rooted in joy: that moment was easily one of the most joyful moments of my life. Sometimes believing just feels too risky; we protect ourselves with doubt. We don’t want to taste the joy and then lose it.
Maybe that’s Thomas’ flaw: he’s not grouchy; he’s guarded, protecting himself from the pain of losing Jesus again.
Thomas’s confession, “My Lord and my God,” doesn’t simply reflect a change of mind based on compelling evidence. Thomas himself is a changed man. And I maintain that this is what we truly ought to remember about Thomas. This is the part of his story that most of us have never heard. Church tradition tells us that Thomas took the gospel of Jesus to a part of the world we know now as northeastern Iran. He then went on to preach about Jesus in India. It was there that he died for his message, speared to death. That’s hardly the story of a reluctant disciple.
Guarded and tentative followers of Jesus don’t preach in India or die a martyr’s death.
Doubts Out in the Open
Yes, it is possible that the seeds of doubt can flower into full-blown disbelief. We’re hearing a lot about that these days as some well know Christians ‘deconstruct’ and abandon their faith. But maybe it’s the doubters – the ones who wrestle with hard questions and speak honestly about the challenge of believing – they’re the ones who come out with the deepest convictions. Those who ask hard questions in pursuit of Jesus are more likely to take big risks in service of Jesus.
I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but I’d like to urge you to ask the hard questions. Bring those doubts out into the open just like Thomas did. But beware: those doubts may lead you to a love for Jesus that will not be content with politely attending church and going through religious motions.
Those doubts could lead to powerful convictions.
Convictions empower risks.
And the world gets changed by risk takers.
Make us bold, O God, the way Thomas was bold; make us honest in our questions and then create deep convictions within us as well. And lead us where you will, ready to risk loving people as we share your love. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.