In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were locked in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Temple authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
Having said this, the savior showed them the marks of crucifixion. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw Jesus, who said to them again, “Peace be with you. As Abba God sent me, so I’m sending you.” After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”
It happened that one of the Twelve, Thomas – nicknamed Didymus, or “Twin” – was absent when Jesus came. The other disciples kept telling him, “We’ve seen Jesus!” Thomas’ answer was, “I’ll never believe it without putting my finger in the nail marks and my hand into the spear wound.”
On the eighth day, the disciples were once more in the room, and this time Thomas was with them. Despite the locked doors, Jesus came and stood before them, saying, “Peace be with you.” Then, to Thomas, Jesus said, “Take your finger and examine my hands. Put your hand into my side. Don’t persist in your unbelief, but believe!” Thomas said in response, “My savior and my God!”
Jesus then said, “You’ve become a believer because you saw me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus performed many other signs as well – signs not recorded here – in the presence of the disciples. But these have been recorded to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Only Begotten, so that by believing you may have life in Jesus’ Name.
~ John 20:19-33
The story of Thomas has always been one of my favorites. Of course, it’s not just a story about Thomas. It’s also a story about frightened disciples. So scared they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed Jesus being betrayed by one of his own, tried and convicted by both religious and civil authorities, and then brutally executed. It makes complete sense they were afraid, assuming that the next step would be to round up Jesus’ followers. But when Jesus comes on the scene, their fear falls away and is replaced by joy.
I think this is the way we assume faith should work … you’ve got doubts, questions and fears, but then God arrives and they all fall away, replaced by joy and wonder and of course unshakeable faith.
But that’s not the way it works with Thomas. He doubts. He questions. He disbelieves. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And again, who can blame him? He was, after all, one of those who saw Jesus … his friend … mistreated, beaten, and then crucified and has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together and trying to figure out what to do next. In fact, he might have already started getting on with his life … why else is he out and about when the rest of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors.
So, here’s what I’m wondering … how do we personally and as a congregation handle our disappointments, doubts and fears? Do we and can we trust them to the resurrected Jesus or do we need proof that God is with us?
Thomas does come to believe. He sees Jesus for himself. And after that experience he not only affirms the witness of the other disciples but makes the most profound confession of faith about Jesus contained in the New Testament calling Jesus my Savior and my God.
But all of that comes after he has a chance to voice his doubt. And sometimes faith is like that … it needs the freedom of questions and doubt to be realized and take hold. I believe true, vigorous, vibrant faith comes from the freedom to question, wonder, and doubt.
Not for everyone, of course. For some, faith comes more easily. Maybe many of the other disciples were like that … although don’t forget that they got to see what Thomas asked for! … But for others it’s harder.
To tell you the truth, I have no idea what the other disciples thought of Thomas’ initial skepticism. Maybe they were scandalized. Or maybe they sympathized. Further, I suspect that John’s whole point in including this story in his Sacred Text is to affirm the faith of his community, a group of people who had not seen yet believed. But, I think it’s important to make room for a little doubt.
The truth is if we don’t have any doubts we’re probably not taking the story seriously enough. I mean, really … think about what we confess when we come together on Sundays: that the Creator of the cosmos not only knows we exist but cares deeply and passionately about our ups and downs, our hopes and dreams, and all the rest. This confession is, quite literally, in-credible … that is, not believable. And yet we come together and in hearing the Word and partaking of Holy Communion and by being joined to those around us through prayer and song, we come to believe.
For some it’s easy. For others, more difficult. For some, hearing the testimony of Scripture is enough. For others, they need something more personal and direct. What does it take for you to not be overcome with doubt and fear while also believing and trusting God’s loving embrace is with you and for you? What would it be like if you allowed yourself to doubt … at the same time believing even in your doubt and fear God is with you and blessing you? I believe questions and wonder and doubt and even skepticism are signs of interest and curiosity and these … quite often … are the soil in which vibrant faith is born thus having an authentic encounter with God.
Thomas comes to faith because he first has the chance to voice his doubt and questions and then experiences Jesus for himself. What about you?
This Sunday during the sermon I plan to provide an opportunity for people to respond to two questions. I invite you to read the Sacred Text above and consider the questions below. There is no right or wrong answer ... my intention is to have an interactive discussion with the congregation. My hunch is as you engage in this exercise you’ll also engage in the text in a new way and have a fresh experience with God … doubt and all! Thanks be to the Living God!
Questions for your consideration:
If you had missed Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples and only heard about it second-hand like Thomas, do you think you would have believed or would you have wanted to see for yourself?
This Sunday during the sermon I plan to provide an opportunity for people to respond to two questions. I invite you to read the Sacred Text below and consider the questions below. My hunch is as you engage in this exercise you’ll also engage in the text in a new way and have a fresh experience with God … doubt and all!
What do you think Jesus means when he says, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe?