This morning’s scripture brings us behind closed doors with the disciples in those bewildering first days after Resurrection – and tells two stories of how the disciples encounter the Risen Christ – first, with all the disciples gathered (except Thomas), and then with Thomas coming late to the party.
Have you noticed what I am NOT calling Thomas? I’m not calling Thomas, “Doubting Thomas.” Because I don’t agree with that. Over the years, the church has labeled this story: the story of “Doubting Thomas.” And that’s what we’ve ended up calling him, “Doubting Thomas,” as if the only thing Thomas ever did was doubt.
The traditional version is this: When Jesus was resurrected, Thomasis the one who didn’t believe. Thomas is the one who didn’t get it. The phrase “Doubting Thomas” has even slipped into our everyday speech – that’s what we call someone who stubbornly and obstinately insists on more proof – “Well, they’re just a ‘Doubting Thomas.”
Well, I submit that history has not been fair to Thomas – there is much more to this story – there is much more to Thomas. And for that matter, that there is much more to doubtand to faith, particularly in bewildering times.
And so, I would like to make the case for Thomas this morning.
But first: The case against Thomas. The case against Thomas is straightforward: The disciples are gathered together after the crucifixion – they’re scared, trying to make sense of the tumultuous events of their world, reeling from their trauma, and they’re staying safe behind closed doors. And the resurrected Christ appears in their midst, and says: “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
But Thomas isn’t there. And when the disciples tell Thomas about it. He doesn’t believe them. He doubts. And Thomas tells them as much – “I’m not going to believe you until I see Jesus for myself, until I put my fingers in the nail-marks in his hand, until I put my hand in his side.”
So Jesus comes back and offers himself to Thomas, “Thomas, place your finger here. Thomas, place your hand here.” And then, and only then, does this “doubting Thomas” believe. Thomas doubts. Doubting Thomas. Blessed are those who believe without seeing.
But there’s more to this story. First of all, there’s so much more to Thomas. We are always so much more than any one moment in our lives.Thomas has been with Jesus for the whole journey. He’s a bold disciple, not afraid to speak up at important moments.
Do you remember a few weeks ago when we shared the story of Lazarus. Jesus doesn’t go to Lazarus at first, but when Jesus decides to go, the disciples try to stop him. They tell Jesus that it would be dangerous to go to the town where Lazarus has died. The authorities there are trying to kill Jesus. But when Jesus says, “No, I’m going,” only Thomas speaks up and says, “Let us go with Jesus, so that we may die with him.” But we don’t call him Thomas the Courageous.