- Acts 2:14, 22-32
- Psalm 16
- 1 Peter 1:3-9
- John 20:19-31
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.
Every single time this gospel reading comes up in the lectionary, I feel as though I have to have a conversation about the difference between faith and belief. At the very least, I feel some compunction to talk about blind faith.
You see, Jesus says – blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. And this line sometimes gets used to talk about blind faith – that Christians believe in something before we see it.
This is the beginning of where Thomas gets maligned. He is called ‘doubting’ because he insists on seeing before believing. Additionally, in some translations, Jesus is quoted as calling Thomas out on his lack of faith – adding more to the charge that Thomas is faithless.
Yet, I find that blind faith is really only a starting point in the life of a Christian. When we take a few steps forward in our blind faith, we move from just hearing about God from others, and nurturing our faith based on these stories, to actually seeing God with our own eyes and writing our own faith stories. Important steps to the pattern of discipleship in the life of a Christian.
So, it is that every single time this gospel reading comes up in the lectionary, I feel a great need to leap to the defence of Thomas. I despise that the word ‘doubting’ is appended to Thomas’ name as some kind of charge of faithlessness.
Thomas is a man full of faith.
I don’t think he would have been an Apostle if he didn’t have faith.
I don’t think he would have agreed to march into death alongside Jesus when Jesus announced that it was time to go to Jerusalem – especially when it was already known that so many wanted him dead.
I don’t think he would have had the courage to say what others may have been thinking when Jesus spoke of his coming death and ascension into heaven – “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [John 14:5, CEB]
There is an honest human quality of Thomas that I think many, many people can relate to.
We live in a time where many different voices are trying to get us onto their side of arguments, of political positions, of social status, of opinion. ‘Believe me,’ is the refrain of all those voices – some earnest and honest and some the slick words of clever scam artists. If we are truthful, our scepticisms and doubts serve to keep us safe and from harm. It is good for us to be careful.
Thomas is a person of interest to me.
The original Greek meaning of Thomas’ name is ‘twin’. There are a certain number of theologians who think this name is symbolically chosen in the telling of the gospel story, because the readers, you and I, are the twins of Thomas.  We are the curious, the uncertain, the skeptics and the doubters. Even as we proclaim our faithfulness to God.
We are invited into the story of Jesus by the writer of the gospel of John. This writer establishes a rhythm and a pattern to the journey of the Christian disciple that repeats throughout the chapters. One person encounters Jesus. Then they share their experience with the next person, who may express some reluctance. Then that person experiences Jesus on their own, directly, and becomes convinced about him and then shares the news about Jesus with the next person. Andrew tells Peter. Philip tells Nathanael. The Samaritan woman tells the townspeople. “Come and See” is the refrain.”
And so, post Easter resurrection, this discernable pattern begins yet again, and, through Thomas, we too are brought into the journey.
The disciple women experience the angel at the tomb, and Jesus along the way to tell the others. They likely shared the good news to varying levels of acceptance and belief. Then, “it was the first day of the week,” and the disciples get their own direct experience. Jesus even shows them his hands and side! The gathered disciples are now convinced, and share their news with Thomas – who wasn’t present.
And so it goes.
Thomas is just like the rest of the disciples. He doesn’t come into the fullness of his faith until he sees and experiences Christ just as everyone else does. And when Christ comes, Thomas is so overwhelmed by the reality of what is happening that he exclaims: “My Lord and my God!” A powerful moment.
The part of this whole story that interests me the most is this: The gospel reading is then Thomas’ testimony to us.
Christ comes to each of us. For some it’s tangibly, but for most, we don’t really get to see it all like the Apostles did. We’re no less blessed than those who gathered in the locked room.
Jesus even said so.
Martin Luther put it this way in one of his own sermons:
“For when the Word of God comes, it neither injures the conscience, nor deranges the understanding of the heart and the external senses… Such now is the power of the Word of God. Thus we have two parts, preaching and believing. Christ’s coming to us is preaching; his standing in our hearts is faith. For it is not sufficient that he stands before our eyes and ears; he must stand in the midst of us in our hearts, and offer and impart to us peace.”
It is not sufficient for Christ to stand before our eyes – he stands in the midst of our hearts, give us peace, love, and faith. That gospel, that good news, that overwhelming truth grows the belief in each of us. The really, really good news is that God keeps showing up!
For the women who discover an empty tomb and a special charge – they meet God where they go.
For the tired, sad, and frightened apostles who gather in a locked room – God does the impossible, passes through stone and wood, is present among those gathered and embodies peace in their midst.
For the one who wasn’t there, who wanted exactly what his friends had – God comes yet again. And loves Thomas, and shares what Thomas needs. And is God.
And blesses the world – those many, many, many of us who will hear the good news and maybe never get to see the fullness of the truth in this life.
Everyone has fears. Every single person will have doubts at some point in their lives. And I think that even in those times, we all still have faith. Thomas shows us that. And, God shows us that we are allowed the space to have those fears and doubts. God also shows us that when the time is right to God, the fullness of faith arrives, with peace and love. And, God keeps coming to us week after week – in the Word, the water, the bread and wine. That same God also sends us out again into the world, renewed, refreshed, maybe still with a little fear, but also with a little more faith.
I encourage you to see the rhythm of our life journeys as disciples of Christ in Thomas’ story. I encourage you to have faith, to courageously question what others might not, to be a believing Thomas and push as hard as you need, until you are awestruck and moved to proclaim with him: ‘My Lord and my God!’”
Let us pray:
By your Word, eternal God, your creation sprang forth, and we were given the breath of life. By your Word, eternal God, death is overcome, Christ is raised from the tomb, and we are given new life in the power of your Spirit. Be with those of us who have fears, doubts, concerns, and questions – make us all courageous to ask for what it is that we need that we may believe so that we will boldly proclaim your good news in our own words and deeds, rejoicing always in your powerful presence; through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.
- Jaime Clark-Soles. “Commentary on John 20:19-31, April 23, 2017.” Preach This Week: Gospel Reading. Working Preacher.
- Elisabeth Johnson. “Commentary on John 20:19-31, April 27, 2014.” Preach This Week: Gospel Reading. Working Preacher.
- David Lose. “Easter 2C: Blessed Doubt.” Dear Partner in Preaching: March 29, 2016. …in the Meantime.
- Martin Luther. “The Fruit of Faith: Sermon for the Sunday after Easter, John 20:19-31” Taken from his Church Postil, 1521. Lectionary Central.
- Nancy Rockwell. “The Skeptic.” The Bite in the Apple: April 15, 2017. Progressive Christian Channel.
- Anna Shirey. “Proving the Path – And Doubting Thomas Shows the Way!” The Brynth, March 27, 2016.
This week’s image is entitled, “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” created by Caravaggio, in 1601-1602. The image is public domain. You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here. The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.
 Anna Shirey. “Proving the Path – And Doubting Thomas Shows the Way!” The Brynth, March 27, 2016.
 Nancy Rockwell. “The Skeptic.” The Bite in the Apple: April 15, 2017. Progressive Christian Channel. Patheos.
 Jaime Clark-Soles. “Commentary on John 20:19-31, April 23, 2017.” Preach This Week: Gospel Reading. Working Preacher.
 Martin Luther. “The Fruit of Faith: Sermon for the Sunday after Easter, John 20:19-31” Taken from his Church Postil, 1521. Lectionary Central. The sermon is taken from volume II:354-363 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.
 Jaime Clark-Soles. “Commentary on John 20:19-31, April 23, 2017.”