In the Synoptic Gospels Thomas is only mentioned as one of the twelve; but in John’s Gospel, Thomas’ words are recorded on three different occasions. The first time is in Chapter 11 after the death of Lazarus and Jesus wants to go to Bethany. Although the other disciples attempt to dissuade Jesus, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”[i] At the last supper during the long discourse following the washing of the disciples feet Jesus begins to explain that he must leave to prepare a place for the disciples. “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”[ii] The third time Thomas speaks is the Sunday following the Resurrection of Jesus. Thomas was not present on Easter Sunday evening when Jesus appeared to the other disciples. When Thomas does return the rest tell him that Jesus appeared to them, but Thomas refuses to believe it and says to the others, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”[iii] What follows seven days later is Jesus’ confrontation of Thomas’ lack of faith in what the other disciples told him. Although Thomas makes a profound profession of faith when he encounters the risen Lord, he will always be remembered as “Doubting Thomas”.
Thomas is far more complicated than to be known only as the doubter. He certainly did doubt, but he also demonstrates a sense of stoicism and practicality in his approach to faith in Christ. In the first episode Thomas is willing to suffer and die with Jesus. This stoic quality is incongruent with the man who doubts that Christ rose from the dead. In the second episode, Thomas is asking what appears to be genuine interest in following Jesus, but he is not clear about where Jesus is going. There are all sorts of arguments about Thomas’ and the other disciples’ lack of faith and understanding; but he does ask the question. It is the third episode that forces Thomas to be remembered along with all the other nonbelievers. Let’s face it; Thomas got a bum rap in John’s Gospel. We don’t remember Peter as “Peter the Denier”, or the young man, sometimes known as Mark or John Mark, in Mark’s Gospel who followed the arrested Jesus, but ran away naked when the Temple guard grabbed his clothing. There is no reference to “Naked Mark”. We could remember the rest as “Afraid Andrew, Cowardly Philip, Deserter James” and so on because the disciples deserted Jesus when he was arrested. The point is that we do not remember any of them by these monikers except for poor Thomas.
Perhaps I sympathize with Thomas because his reactions are so often mirrored in our reactions. I think there are times when we are stoical about things that we are getting ready to face or going though. There are times when we stand up for our faith and what we believe and do not give even a second thought to what criticism might follow. There are times when it is important to ask questions about things that are not clear to us. Thomas was asking Jesus for direction; don’t we do the same thing in our prayer life. Finally, is our faith so crystal clear that we never question the Scriptures, the Creeds, the teaching of the Church and the Church’s direction about certain matters?
The revelation of God did not cease with the close of the Apostolic Age. God continues to teach, to disclose God’s love and will throughout all the ages of humankind. Thomas’ statement that gave him the nickname of “doubting” was answered in just seven days by a direct appearance of Jesus. Blessed are you who continue to hope and wait for answers all the while remaining faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ.
A blessed Eastertide to all of you!
[i] John 11:16b
[ii] Ibid, 14:5-6
[iii] Ibid, 20:25b
~ Fr. Al Jewson
Rector's Corner posts written by Pastor Rebecca.