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"Doubting" Thomas...

Come, join me as we view the resurrection of Jesus through the eyes of the disciple named Thomas. Many of us know him as “Doubting Thomas”. I want to invite you to see him differently!

Thomas is one of Jesus’ chosen twelve disciples. The Gospels don’t record why Jesus chose him, but, although he is not one of the inner circle of the three whom Jesus took aside for special occasions, he is not the least either. In the lists of the names of the twelve in all four gospels, Thomas is mentioned either seventh or eighth.

The synoptic gospels don’t have much more to say about Thomas, but John recorded several stories about him. So, let’s eavesdrop on these occasions.

The first story involves the sickness and death of Lazarus. As you may recall, Jesus waited a few days before responding to Martha and Mary’s plea for His help. Lazarus’ home was in Bethany, just a short distance southwest of Jerusalem. Jesus told his disciples they were to go back to Judea. Several of the disciples, John records, reminded him of the dangers awaiting in Jerusalem and tried to talk him out of going. Jesus responded to their concerns, and then told them that Lazarus had died, and that they were to go be with him. And this is when Thomas spoke up. John identifies him as “Thomas (called Didymus)", suggesting there may have been more than one Thomas in the group. But here is our Thomas:                                                               “Let us also go, that we may die with him.

Okay, Thomas, commitment, yes, but also pessimism.  Does that make you stop to wonder how the other disciples responded to Jesus' statement? Were they possibly thinking the same thing, but afraid to say it?

The next time we meet Thomas is in the upper room, after the last supper, as Jesus, having washed their feet, was sharing some important teaching with them. He had spoken of his death. Peter had impulsively vowed he would lay down his life for Jesus. And then Jesus, knowing how difficult this was for his disciples, sought to comfort them by promising that he would come back to take them to the place where he was going. “You know the way to the place where I am going,” he asserted confidently. Were they all sitting there, staring at him, wondering what he was talking about? Yet only Thomas was brave enough to express his bewilderment:                                                         “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?

The beautiful thing here is that there is no reprimand from Jesus. Would you be thinking, “Come on, Thomas, I just told you. Weren’t you listening?” But not our wonderful, caring savior. He went on to answer Thomas’ question, further explaining "the way". I wonder if Jesus was honoring the honesty of Thomas and his courage.

We then come to the story that I think we are probably most familiar with. Jesus has risen from the dead. He has visited his frightened disciples, who had gathered behind locked doors “for fear of Jews”. “Peace be with you,” he said. He showed them his hands and his side. They responded with joy. John goes on to record that “Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve,” was not with them when Jesus came. They told him of Jesus’ visit. And Thomas responded with those familiar words:     

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” 

Oh, Thomas, now we are disappointed in you. Now we are going to judge you as lacking faith and label you as doubting Thomas. Or…could we step back for a moment and put ourselves in Thomas’ shoes? Sometimes, I think these stories are so familiar to us, we lose sight of the reality of living through those terrible days with all that had happened, that all their dreams had been dashed, and their future unknown. 

A week goes by. The disciples are again behind locked doors, and this time Thomas is with them. Again, Jesus appears, with the same greeting: “Peace be with you.”

And then he looks straight at Thomas. Again, there is no reprimand. And Jesus invites him to do the very things that Thomas had demanded that he needed to do to believe that Jesus really had risen from the dead…he offered himself to be touched. The generosity of the offer was enough for Thomas. And he exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!”

What passed between them in that gaze? What love! What compassion! What understanding!

Do you wonder at the fact that even in the most triumphant story ever told, scars remain?

And then the blessing Jesus gave to Thomas was extended to us all.

“Blessed,” Jesus said, “are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

And that is you, and that is me! And what happened to Thomas can happen again and again for each of us, turning doubt into faith and trouble into amazement, and the wonder of it all can overwhelm us.

And the scars or wounds you carry because of the difficulties you have faced…what of them? Can you trust that those scars are honored by God, as you allow Him to bring His resurrection life to you? That gaze of love is for you also. Pause and allow your hurts, your questions, your doubts to surface. Can you sense the Master’s compassion bringing you healing? Can hope be birthed and is new life possible?

Or are you in a place in your life right now where you need more than that gaze of love? Are there things you do not understand, and you feel the need for a physical touch? God is present with you always. Sometimes, though, we need “Jesus with skin on.” If that is where you are at, and you need someone in your life to listen with you to your questions and doubts, reach out and ask for help. A spiritual director can offer you the gift of listening and help you recognize God’s gaze of love.


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