Our text this Sunday is a common and familiar one, which is read each year the Sunday after the Resurrection. We know this story as “Doubting Thomas”.
On Palm Sunday, I talked about we all have had our moments when we have been Judas (the betrayer) and Peter (the denier); well, we all are “doubting” Thomas.
My question is, who is Thomas before the Resurrection, during this account, and afterwards?
Well, Thomas (according to John) is one of the twelve disciples of Christ, who prior to the Resurrection [Doubting Thomas] story we have two lines from him.
The first is Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to Bethany and then onto Jerusalem. The disciples are attempting to persuade Christ otherwise. Thomas, as one commenter says in an Eeyore voice, replies “well alright, lets go so we might die too”. I can see where it might be easy to understand that has pessimistic and as Eeyore, but in hindsight it is very honest, it is very straight-forward, and it is very realistic. We can assume that Thomas is a realist and a straight-shooter.
The other is when Christ is teaching the disciples. I can imagine all the disciples are sitting there nodding their heads ‘yeah, we understand’ and whispering to one another ‘I am clueless, what is he talking about?’. Thomas says “Lord, what are you talking about? I am lost. I am confused”, which tells us that he is inquisitive. He is seeking to understand and he is not afraid to embarrass himself or be perceived as “stupid” in order to achieve it.
In this [Doubting Thomas] story, we have Thomas the inquisitive skeptic, but this story is so much more than that. See, it’s theme is central to the Gospel of John.
Lets go back to the Resurrection story.
Mary Magdalene expecting to encounter the corpus of Christ, instead encounters the Risen Lord. She is commissioned to go tell the disciples of this. She finds them in a dark room. She tells them and the disciples DO NOT believe her until Christ (himself) shows up in the dark room. He greets them, gives them the same commission he gave Mary Magdalene, and then breathes his Holy Spirit into them. It is the same usage of “breath in” that God “breathed” life into Adam in the creation story; it is new life to equip us for our new calling.
The disciples then find Thomas and tell him. Thomas says “I DO NOT believe you and I won’t until the proof/the evidence is before my own eyes and I can touch it”.
A week later, the disciples are still in the dark room. Christ enters in and shows himself to Thomas. Thomas knows when he has been beat, “my Lord and my God”, which is the same expression from our Psalm 16 text. Noting that this ‘doubt’, this inquisitive nature is part of an intimate relationship that takes us deeper into knowing who God is.
See, in John’s gospel one hears about Christ but does not believe, experiences Christ and then is called forth to share that experience, to be witnesses. Thomas witnesses to us in this story. He also, according to tradition, becomes a missionary to India. His background is as a carpenter and he is commissioned to build a palace for the king. The king throws tons of money at Thomas. Thomas doesn’t do anything with it, in the eyes of the king. The king comes to check on the progress and nothing as been done; no foundation has been laid [and] no building is there. So, he questions Thomas and Thomas says ‘I have built a palace and a kingdom but not here on earth it is in heaven above’. For he took that money and he clothed the naked, he feed the hungry, he loved and served those in need.
Paul Tillich was a Lutheran theologian during World War II. In 1957, he published The Dynamic of Faith, which he wrote:
Doubt is not the opposite of faith; doubt is an element of faith.
I would add it is a necessary element to have a living and dynamic faith, but beyond that this text is better translated not as “Thomas [stop continuing to be in] doubt” but rather as “Thomas don’t become faithless”.
Ask questions! Seek answers in a way that goes deeper and encourages spiritual growth.
I hope that we can all embrace this example of Thomas more fully each day. Amen.
The scripture was John 20: 19-31.
The sermon was originally preached on 23 April 2017.
If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy the Newsletter article “Doubt: Necessary for a Dynamic Faith“.