Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin . . . (John 20:24)
Thomas had a twin.
That’s what his name means. To say ‘Thomas’ was to say ‘twin.’ Somehow a Greek nickname was thrown in: ‘Didymus.’ Didymus also means twin. Thomas was literally a ‘twin-twin.’
Fraternal? Identical? We are never told. In fact, the biblical record says not one word about Thomas’ twin. The only indication we have that such a person exists at all is Thomas’ own name. When it comes to twins, where you see one there has to be another.
If you’re on Facebook, you may have friends who have not yet chosen a profile picture. What we see instead of a picture is a generic silhouette. A blank headshot. Could be anybody. That’s what the Bible gives us when it comes to Thomas’ twin.
Some scholars have suggested that the name ‘twin’ is meant to say something about Thomas himself. ‘Didymus’ is a name indicating that he was double-souled, a man who carried within himself two people: one bold and faithful, the other cowering and riddled with doubt. Maybe. I’d like to suggest a slightly different take on Thomas’s unnamed twin.
Looking Just Like Thomas
Maybe it is good that the identity of the twin is never set forth for us in detail. Is it possible that the blank headshot allows us to see ourselves in Thomas? Any one of us could be his twin. I can only speak for myself, but I am far more like Thomas than I care to admit.
When Jesus announced his plan to return to Judea, to the place where Lazarus had died, the disciples were alarmed. Judea was not safe; leaders of the Jews there had tried to have Jesus stoned. Thomas voices both loyalty and pessimism. “Let us go that we may die with him” (John 11:16). I know that man too well: Willing to go but seeing what can go wrong, problems shadowing possibilities.
Just before his death, when Jesus spoke of going to prepare a place for his disciples so that they could be with him, Thomas missed the point. “We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:1-6). Thomas sometimes missed the deeper meaning of things. My own insights into the will and ways of Jesus are often too shallow. Like Thomas, I’m slow on the uptake.
And then there’s the well-known scene just after the resurrection, that now famous expression of doubt. This is the place where Jesus tells Thomas, “Don’t be unbelieving. Believe!” (John 20:27). I need to hear those words almost every day. Not about the resurrection – just in general. Believing and trusting are ongoing battles for me.
The Limitless Patience of Jesus
As strange as it seems, Thomas may have many twins. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you see yourself in his life: in his pessimistic and anxious loyalty, in his lagging comprehension of what Jesus is about, in his reluctance to believe that Jesus is alive.
In all these pictures of Thomas there is one consistent presence, the common thread that holds them all together. We see time and time again the limitless patience of Jesus. And the grace and mercy that was available to Thomas is available to us.
Thomas is shown to us in the gospels as a befuddled but committed friend of Jesus who ends up making one of the most profound confessions of faith in the entire Bible: “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). The journey from befuddled follower to committed, risk taking believer is not quick. But in that journey, as long as it takes, Jesus keeps showing up.
Jesus is alive and he is faithfully present. He walks with us without pushing, always inviting, patient with our starts and stops. This is good news for all of us so-called ‘twins’ of Thomas. The Spirit is always working, quietly changing us, shaping in us the likeness of Christ.
Let’s pray for the day when we look far less like Thomas, and much more like Jesus.
Gracious God, I see so much of myself in Thomas. Thank you for your faithful patience. Keep working in me until I bear the likeness of your son, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.