By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
May 1, 2011
Try to forget, for a moment, everything you thought you knew about Thomas. Notice that I didn’t say “Doubting Thomas,” because this nickname is the first thing we need to forget. So…forget that somewhere along the way you came to believe that Thomas’ primary attribute is doubt. Forget that you still think of him as a slightly inferior disciple. Forget that you’re pretty sure Jesus rebukes him for his lack of faith. Forget all of that. Why? Because in each case the opposite is true.
First, Thomas is – not anywhere in John’s Gospel – described as “the doubter.” Notice he is “the Twin,” a name most of us have long forgotten. Further, when Jesus had declared his intention to return to Judea – and the other disciples try to dissuade him because they know it will mean his death – it is Thomas who urges the others to follow Jesus “so that we may die with him” (11:16). Thomas is not so much a doubter as he is a realist, and a few days earlier he’d encountered reality like never before as he saw his friend and lord nailed to the cross and die. Now, when his friends tell him that they’ve seen the Lord, he reacts with a realist’s skepticism, kind of like a terminally ill patient who has accepted his fate might react to news of a new “miracle cure.”
Second, did you ever notice that what Thomas asked for was exactly what all the other disciples got? When Jesus appeared to the other disciples he showed them his hands and his side and only then, John records, did the disciples rejoice “because they saw the Lord” (20:20). One conclusion we might draw is that, despite his bad rap, Thomas is no worse than the other disciples. More importantly, perhaps we’ve actually misunderstood the nature of faith altogether, assuming that the “more” faith we have the fewer questions we’ll ask. But the Bible offers a different picture of faith, one in which faith and doubt are woven much closer together than we might imagine. Faith, after all, isn’t knowledge but instead “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews: 11:1).
Third, Jesus’ words at the end of this scene aren’t, I think, really about Thomas. After all, who are “those who have believed and not seen”? Well, it starts with the members of the early Christian community to whom John writes…and it continues to include all of us. And so…Jesus isn’t so much rebuking Thomas as he is blessing us. (3 points come from David Lose – working preacher.org)
Faith is a mystery of the heart that the mind wants to solve. To admit that we take certain things on faith is to say that we are willing, in limited circumstances, for things not to make perfect sense.
Do you believe in things you cannot see? The Rev. Dr. Wyvetta Bullock grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in the southern part of the United States and she says that “I learned the value of believing before seeing. In the face of being devalued and discriminated against, I believed that my neighbor and I were created equal. And in the midst of being told that I did not possess the academic capacity of my white counterparts, I believed that I could grow and matriculate through schools of higher learning”.
When you think about it, each one of us uses faith. We all believe in something. Whether it is ourselves, a holy other, or Murphy’s Law, we trust in something. What we believe about ourselves and the world around us makes a difference. Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” What we believe sets a course for our future and directs our daily activities. Consequently, when we believe only what we can see, we limit ourselves to a whole world of possibilities.
Quantum physicists say that our universe is connected across space and time with this wonderful, invisible web of energy. In other words, what we see is created from what we cannot see. And even more than that, our thoughts, our intentions affect this invisible world for either good or ill. Our ability to create and respond to creation is linked to our beliefs. Our world is really created from the inside out. What is in our heart produces what finally is in our hand. Jesus said it like this, “Out of the good treasure of the heart good is produced.” What is seen comes from what is unseen.
In reality, we all practice our faith every day. As we live our lives, we live them based on what we believe about who we are, why we are here, and what the future holds. If we believe the future holds promise for a fulfilled life, we generally work and play with positive expectations. If we believe that the future will not be friendly, we generally live with fear.
Believing in what is not yet seen means we practice or behave as if it is already exists. Luther said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This is what leaders and visionaries do. They believe in something bigger than themselves and they begin to act as if it is so.
In the 20th chapter of the Gospel according to John, the disciples of Jesus were presented with the overwhelming circumstances of Jesus’ death. Their hopes and dreams were crushed by his crucifixion. How could they make meaning out of what had just happened to Jesus? What had happened to the purpose of their 3 years of ministry with him? How could they imagine a friendly future? Their leader was dead and because of their relationship with him, they might be next.
Well, in the midst of their doubt and despair, Jesus enters the room where they are hiding. Jesus talks with them, shows them the nail prints in his hands and feet. The disciples rejoice to see him. Their leader, indeed, was alive. One disciple, Thomas, was not present when Jesus appeared. When Thomas heard about it, he was not convinced. It all seemed too impossible! Thomas needed proof. Jesus comes again to the place where the disciples are gathered when Thomas is present and he gives Thomas the proof that he seeks. Thomas saw, touched, and believed.
Jesus’ life, and death and resurrection are proof of God’s love for the world. It is the evidence of life out of death and the assurance that things thought to be impossible can become reality.
Blessed are those who face contradictions with God given confidence. Blessed are those who hear the facts, but trust the truth. Blessed are those who have not seen, but yet come to believe.
My Lord and My God. Amen.
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