I can’t remember that I ever heard anything positive about Thomas.
In spite of their mistakes, inappropriate behaviour and questions, it seems as if all other disciples are “forgiven” in our remembrance of them: Peter betrays Jesus, not once but three times, the sons of Zebedee claim privileged positions and undue honour, the disciples do not understand Jesus’s message and ask silly questions or expect unreasonable things from Jesus – all of this we “forgive and forget”.
But Thomas? It seems as if Thomas is forever marked by his questions. It seems as if doubt is the one sin we cannot forgive.
Maybe we are “othering” Thomas because it is so difficult for us to face the doubt in ourselves. Maybe we as Christians do not want to face the fact that we also often doubt.
We live in a world where it seems as if we face death in so many ways – we hear of poison gas attacks on innocent civilians, politicians putting their own well-being above those of citizens, reduction of funding to healthcare and HIV, terrorist attacks on churches… The list can go on.
And yet we and Christians all over the world are expected to rejoice in the resurrection of the Lord, expected to say that we “know” that Christ has risen.
I hear more and more Christians saying softly and carefully that this is not how they feel, that it is difficult for them to see the possibility of resurrection and new life; that it is difficult to live in the spirit of Easter, when it is not their experience. They reluctantly admit that they also feel like saying “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.” (Vs25, NIV)
They are however afraid to say this in front of Christians, they are uncertain of what other Christians will say, they fear being blamed for their lack of belief.
If I look at the way in which Jesus interacts with Thomas, I think He would treat our doubts and uncertainty very differently. He did not judge Thomas, not in this text, and not in the other interactions we hear about. He came back, and provided an opportunity for Thomas to see and touch, to become convinced that He is truly alive.
In John 14:5 Thomas was the one who asked Jesus “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Like in our text of today, Jesus does not criticize the fact that Thomas questions Him. In fact, He answers him in one of the clearest explanations we have of who Jesus is: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
The Bible does not tell us more about Thomas after the Ascension. Church tradition however says that Thomas became a missionary, passionately spreading the message of the Living Christ to Babylon, Persia, India and even further. The doubter, after his doubts were addressed, became the doer.
Maybe we should not be so concerned about our doubts. Maybe we should cry out our doubts like Thomas did: “Unless I see….” Maybe the Living Christ will then show us the signs of His new life in the midst of our deaths.
To think about: Which issues of death do you want to ask God about today? Where do you need to see and touch the Risen Christ?
Written By: Ms Lyn van Rooyen: Director CABSA