Faithful Thomas

John 20:19-31
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “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.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Faithful Thomas
The Congregational Church of Easton – April 7, 2024

I think poor old Thomas gets a bad press! I know he was doing something else when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, and I know he didn’t believe his best friends when they told him that they had seen the risen Jesus. But I think it’s a bit unkind that he has gone down in history as ‘Doubting Thomas.’ In one sense this title is accurate. He did doubt that Jesus had risen; but he did something about his doubt. He was honest about his doubt. He said he needed proof. He needed to actually see Jesus and his wounds if he was to believe in the resurrection. Plus, he stayed with the disciples. He didn’t walk out, saying he thought they were all mad for believing such a crazy thing. And, they didn’t kick him out for not believing what they believed.

A week later they are still all together, holding the tensions of their questions and doubts and different beliefs. Jesus appears to them again. He goes straight to Thomas, not to berate him for doubting, but to invite him to look at and touch his wounds. And Thomas, who had been ‘Doubting Thomas’ for one week, makes a profession of faith, he kneels before Jesus and says ‘My Lord and my God,’ and thus becomes ‘Believing Thomas’ for the rest of his life.
I think there are a number of things we can learn from this incident. First and foremost, we learn the importance of honesty in our faith and in our doubt. Jesus does not condemn Thomas for doubting, he responds directly to his doubt. Doubt, lack of faith, is not a sin. It is part of growing up in faith. What is a sin is to have doubts and questions and not do anything about them or to fix our beliefs so firmly in certainty that we close down any possibility of learning more or seeing things from a different perspective.

There is a wonderful scene in the TV sitcom, Rev, when the shambling but faithful vicar, Adam Smallbone, is talking to a young, successful trendy vicar who fills his church because he makes faith overly simple and straightforward. Adam says, “Faith must encounter doubt, and all I get from you is certainty.” If the story of Thomas teaches us anything, it is that faith and doubt can and must live together.

Think about that week between the first resurrection appearances when most of the disciples had seen the risen Lord and Thomas hadn’t ……. they stayed together, talking, discussing, arguing, perhaps, but they stayed together. I think the Church is in that state continually. We need to learn to be more gracious, generous and accepting. We need to hold people with sophisticated and sure faith together with people with emerging, doubting, questioning faith, and everyone in between. The Church is sometimes called ‘the community of the faithful.’ I think it should be called the community of the faithful and of those exploring or struggling with faith.
One of the other things the story of Thomas teaches us is that we shouldn’t label people and categorize them. As I said, Thomas was ‘Doubting Thomas’ for one week, but then he encountered the risen Lord and became ‘Believing Thomas.’ He remained ‘Believing Thomas’ for the rest of his life, until he was martyred for his belief. Yet we still refer to him as ‘Doubting Thomas.’

We have a tendency to do that with others. We do it with celebrities and with politicians. We categorize friends and family – because of one incident, one mistake, one failing. We label them — and though they may change, or move on, in our minds we make them retain the label we once gave them. We have to allow people to change and accept that people do change.

Finally, we have to remember that asking questions is great. Asking big questions about big issues is fantastic. Questions are how we learn and grow. One of the wonderful things about children is that they ask loads of questions. Unfortunately, they sometimes ask the really big questions when you aren’t ready for them or have time for them.
But we should always respect their questions and answer them honestly, even if the answer is ‘I don’t know, but let’s try and find out.”

I read about a pastor who recalled,
I remember a child once asked me what I thought God looked like. I could have referred to the huge number of images of God described in the bible. I could have talked about Jesus and that he was the image of God. In the end, I got hold of a children’s story book, a version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and found the page which showed the Dad in the story, a large smiley man, running towards his wayward son, arms outstretched to embrace him, ready to tell him he loved him. “That’s what God looks like,” I said.

The questions children ask are blessings because they make us think carefully about how we can answer the questions in a way the child will understand. Responding to a child who asked what God looks like would help you and me think about what we think God looks like.

The questions children ask — the questions we all ask — are potentially blessings for all of us, since they lead to deeper thinking and eventually greater insight into God. Remember that wonderful scene in John’s gospel chapter 14 when Jesus was talking about leaving the disciples one day?” He said, ‘you know the way to the place that I am going?’ I imagine them all nodding in agreement, without really understanding what Jesus was actually talking about. The one with the courage to ask the question they probably all wanted to ask was Thomas: “‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Thomas asked. This question led to Jesus saying, ‘‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” In other words, follow me, live the way I live and the kingdom will come. If Thomas hadn’t asked the question Jesus might never have said this.

As we reflect on the story of ‘Believing Thomas’ let’s be honest about our faith and about our doubts, let’s learn to live respectfully with people who have different faith and different doubts to our own.

Let’s not categorize people. Let’s allow others to change; and let’s rejoice in questions – because questions are blessings that can help us grow in understanding and in faith.
Let us pray: Holy One, thank you for our doubts. Help us be honest about our doubts and do something about them. Help us to allow others to change. Amen.