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.” ~ John 20:24-25
Those who grew up in the church have grown up hearing stories from the Bible. Often, the tradition surrounding a story supercedes what the story actually says. For example, what did the innkeeper say to Mary and Joseph? "There’s no room in the inn"!! Right? NO!! There is no innkeeper in any of the gospels. How many Wisemen or Magi were there? Three, right? NO!!! There were three gifts… gold, frankincense and myrrh, but we are never told how many Magi there were. Historically, Magi traveled in groups no smaller than twelve. Yet when asked, tradition rules over what scripture actually tells us.
For those who were with us at our evening Good Friday Service, I depicted a side of Judas that tradition likes to leave out because we all know that Judas is the “bad guy.” For me, the same is true for Thomas, better known as “doubting Thomas” because he doubted the risen Lord…or did he? On Easter morning, depending the Gospel, Mary and some others show up to anoint the dead body of Jesus. They didn’t come expecting him to rise, but to be dead in the tomb. So they are surprised when they find the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body gone. In John’s account, Peter and the one that Jesus loves left Mary wailing at the tomb to return home. They were not there when Jesus calls Mary by name, and it is only then that she recognizes him.
Later on Easter morning, the disciples, minus Judas and Thomas, are gathered in the upper room when Jesus appears to them. It is only then, after seeing Jesus, that they believe that he was alive and risen. The ten disciples must have gone from that upper room telling people what they saw, but Thomas, not being there, didn’t believe them. He didn’t doubt Jesus, he doubted his fellow disciples. For a week, the ten probably tried to convince Thomas that they had seen Jesus. In hearing their story and trying to convince him, Thomas says his most famous quote, “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.”
This request is no more and no less than what the other disciples asked for. I mean, Peter tells Jesus to his face that he is a liar when Jesus tells him that Peter will betray him. In fact, Peter also is very quick to tell Jesus he is a liar when he tells him that he is going to die. If we look at scripture, none of the disciples believed Jesus when he said he was going to rise again in three days, because if they had, they all would have shown up at the tomb in anticipation of the risen Lord.
Yet it is here in John 20, where Thomas tells his fellow disciples that he doesn’t believe them, again not Jesus, that he will forever be known as Doubting Thomas. For me, the bigger question is, why did Thomas not believe his fellow disciples? Was it because of Judas’ betrayal? Was it because of Peter’s denial? Was it because it took Jesus a full week after he showed up to the rest of the disciples for Jesus to reveal himself to Thomas? Or was it something else? Maybe, despite being with the other disciples for the last three years, he didn’t feel safe, or that he couldn’t trust them, or that he would be judged.
Tradition tells us that Thomas doubted, but don’t we all? I am not saying we doubt Jesus or the power of Easter. I don’t feel that Thomas doubted Jesus at all. In fact, when Jesus appears to Thomas, Thomas is the first of the twelve, even though it has been a week for the others, to refer to Jesus as “My Lord and My God!” And this is before he puts his hand in Jesus’s wounds. Like Thomas, we doubt each other. We have our close friends that we trust, but with what? If someone stood up in church and proclaimed that they were miraculously healed through prayer, would you believe them or would you think they were a bit crazy? What if it was a close friend?
I had a friend in high school that was really involved in our church and in our youth group and she got pregnant. It took her until she couldn’t hide her pregnancy anymore to tell our church, which was really small and ended up being very supportive. Why? Because she doubted the church’s reaction!!In 15 years of working with youth and their families, I have ministered to lots of hurting families, from illnesses, to addictions, to students who were afraid of telling others, especially the church, that they are gay. All of them have one thing in common. They doubted, not Jesus, but those who say they follow him. But why? It is because often our actions and reactions don’t reflect what we say we believe or who we say we follow.
Never did Jesus turn away someone in need. Never did Jesus shun a mother who brought her children hear him preach, even if they were loud. Jesus was one who walked with “sinners” and “prostitutes”, not always liking what they did but loving them regardless. Those who truly knew Jesus had no doubt that he loved them. The same is true for us!!!
We are Easter people! We live in a world knowing that Jesus died and rose so that all might have new life and have it abundantly.Thomas might have doubted his fellow disciples, but when he saw the risen Lord there was no doubt who Jesus was and that He was his Lord and his God.
I write all of this to say that I feel that sometimes the doubt that people have about Jesus doesn’t come from Jesus or what he did, but from the actions of those who follow him. One of my favorite quotes is from Mahatma Gandhi who said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I like it because it makes me uncomfortable. I like it because it makes me check my actions and reactions to all those around me. I am not saying we have to agree with everyone or everything. There are things that are wrong. Jesus told the prostitute to stop, and she did, but even if she hadn’t, Jesus still would have shown her love. He would have because everything that Jesus did he did out of love, so that no one could doubt the love of his Father in Heaven. We should try to do the same, because we are the only Christ that someone will see today. Will they doubt or will they believe?