“THOMAS: THE BAD BOY OF DISBELIEF?”
Pastoral Message: Rev. Allen Mothershed
Thomas the Disciple. You cannot hear those word without then thinking, “Doubting” Thomas. Like a bad childhood nickname, “Doubting” Thomas sticks to him for life and he never seems to outgrow it.
This all began because Thomas was not with the other disciples when the resurrected Jesus first appeared to them. When the excited disciples wanted to include Thomas in their joy by sharing their amazing news, Thomas said, “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.” And so, when Jesus appeared again to the disciples and this time Thomas was with them, Jesus’ first order of business was catching Thomas up with the rest of them. He said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” But, Thomas does not need to touch to believe. Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
As John the gospel writer tells his stories of resurrection, everyone seems to have come to believe with different degrees of evidence. John, called “the beloved disciple,” the one whom Jesus loved, only needs to see the empty tomb and he believes. Mary Magdalene cries at the empty tomb, grieving the stolen body of Jesus. But she believes when she hears a man she thought to be the gardener call her by name, “Mary.” (“My sheep know my voice; I call them and they follow me.”) Peter is not so quick to believe. He sees the empty tomb and is confounded by it. It is only when he is with the rest of the disciples and Jesus appears that he comes to believe. Only seeing Jesus generates belief. You might sense a hierarchy of faith: First - seeing an empty tomb and believing. Second - hearing her name spoken and believing. Third - seeing Jesus in person and believing. And then there is Doubting Thomas - a distant fourth. He’s like the student who fails the mid-term, but does well on the final after pulling an all-nighter.
So Thomas is Doubting Thomas. And for those of us who find in Thomas a role model, it's a nickname spoken with fondness. His is a nickname that can be worn with pride. Maybe John was just giving us many different role models, one not better than the other, each worthy of being followed.
So many of us who have struggled with faith and doubt might beg to differ in our assessment of Thomas. We find in him a saint we can patronize. Throughout my life, I have discovered doubt to be the great friend of authentic faith. Bosom buddies with each other. I remember the earliest crisis of faith when I was a college student. I saw the hypocrisy of Christianity wrapped up in love talk while showing such brutality and oppression of blacks. My mind wondered about the fantastical claims of Christianity and an insistence by the Christian culture that surrounded me that I must take these stories of scripture literally, or I would not be of the true faith. I saw the suffering of people and wondered how a loving and powerful God could allow it. I was bewildered, lost, unsettled, criticized, and isolated for not just accepting what the faith said I must accept. This was a painful time in my life, and yet I found myself questioning and pursuing new answers. New possibilities opened up and my faith matured. My faith became more individuated and richer. Such is the power of doubt, the best friend of faith.
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