Thought for the week - 23 April
Today, the second Sunday of Easter in the Common Worship Lectionary the gospel reading is the same for all the three years. It is the story of Thomas. St. Thomas has always had a curious and fascinating attraction for me, for various reasons.
First of all, he is extremely human and in some ways curiously modern – something of a sceptic. He is sometimes held up as an example of someone not to be like. “Don’t be like Thomas, believe, don’t doubt.” But as a natural doubter myself I find I am drawn to him. And I find it worrying that we are living in a religious environment where to doubt anything can be seen as a sign of unbelief. There is a growing fundamentalism in the Church that seeks for certainty, teaches certainty and demands certainty from its followers. There is no room for Thomas here. What on earth was Jesus doing choosing Thomas the Doubter? Or, for that matter, Peter the Denier? But Jesus knew who he was choosing to be his disciples and he knew why he was choosing them.
When we look at Thomas we find that he is a fairly down-to-earth, practical sort of person, in some ways rather slow on the uptake. In his long farewell discourse in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus reassures his disciples: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God[a]; trust also in me. 2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going."
5Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Thomas is not afraid to ask when he doesn’t understand even if asking might make him look a bit stupid.
Another thing that has always fascinated me about Thomas, is where was he on that first Easter Sunday? Why was he not with the others? What was he doing? The others had locked themselves inside out of fear. Plainly Thomas wasn’t afraid. He was out an about somewhere. He had heard the rumours that Jesus was alive. Was he out trying to find the truth for himself? Who knows?
Wherever he was, when he got back the others tell him that they have seen the Lord and Thomas famously replies: "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."
Thomas’ reaction is perfectly reasonable. After all, what the others have told him is, or so it seems, unbelievable. Thomas wants to find out for himself.
He wants reassurance that what the others have seen is not just some hallucination or a ghost. He needs to know that it really is Jesus – the Jesus who has been crucified.
And so, a week later when Jesus again appears to the disciples Thomas is there, and Jesus speaks to him personally: "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." The Gospel does not record what Thomas did, whether he did just that, reaching out his finger and his hand to Jesus. I don’t believe that he did. I think the presence in the room of the crucified Lord and his words were enough to convince Thomas. It is this personal encounter with the risen Jesus, the Jesus he has known all this time which brings from a response which is the high point of St. John’s Gospel: 28Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Thomas doesn’t just recognize the risen Lord, he recognizes who he is: “My Lord and my God!"
In the gospels the disciples are shown to be slow in recognizing who Jesus really is. In the synoptic gospels it is the centurion at the foot of the cross, and not the disciples who recognizes who Jesus really is: “Surely this man was the Son[b] of God!"
In that upper room the other disciples recognized the risen Jesus – “we have seen the Lord” – but did they recognize him for who he really was? Thomas certainly did: "My Lord and my God!" His faith comes through his own personal encounter with the living Lord, and not through hearsay, or through word of others. He sees, he believes and he testifies: "My Lord and my God!