Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Each year the gospel lesson for the second Sunday of Easter is the same. We hear about this scenario with Thomas. Each year I get a little fired up that Thomas gets a bad rap. This year I am proposing a change in what we call Thomas. I move that we get rid of the word doubting in front of his name. There are a few reasons for this motion. Do I hear a second?
First of all, the word doubting never actually appears in this story. The Greek word for doubt is distazo. It never actually is written in John 20. Distazo is found in Matthew’s post resurrection reunion story (Matthew 28:17) but not here despite various translations that say it is so. Just in the translation itself there really isn’t a basis for calling him a doubting disciple.
Secondly, if we think that Thomas is the only one questioning Jesus coming back to life, we are sorely mistaken. Let’s just acknowledge right here and now that this is kind of a big thing to swallow. These disciples watched their teacher die in front of them in the cruelest form possible. And a week later (not the next day while they are still in shock but a full week later…like the amount of time now from Easter) he appears. This has never happened before. It is, in fact, incredible! Without much credit! So when Mary first tells the disciples that Jesus has been raised they are skeptical and all doubt the scenario. They have to see to believe as well. When Jesus does appear before them, they doubt as well. Thomas just isn’t in the room to get lumped together with them. People are not resurrected everyday. I would worry if they didn’t question.
Plus I am discovering that the Gospel of John has this theme of bringing Jesus questions. Jesus encourages the true disciples to question him. The ones who question more and engage Jesus at different levels are actually the truer disciples. Remember the woman at the well?
Finally, how did Thomas get the doubting label when after he questions Jesus he is the first one to proclaim ultimate discipleship? Once he has seen Jesus and talked with him he proclaims ultimate dedication, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas actually sets out an example to us of the one who proclaims to be a disciple and believer. Jesus doesn’t chastise him for his doubting for they all have doubted but exclaims what he does for our benefit. Thomas is actually empowering us to ask questions and to believe. Thomas is actually our example. Jesus then turns to the ones (the readers of the gospel in the community of John and us) who have not seen and are called to question and believe. Jesus actually calls us out on our doubts in order to remember the story.
So with my motion of removing the word doubting to describe Thomas, maybe I should move that we add another word such as empowering. Empowering Thomas. Disciple Thomas. Our example, Thomas.
Quotes of the Week “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” ― Paul Tillich
“Some things have to be believed to be seen.” ― Madeleine L’Engle
“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”- Frederick Buechner
John 20:19-31 (NRSV) When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Questions for the Week
What questions do you have for Jesus?
Where are you seeing new life happen right before your eyes?
Where are you in this story?