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.”
Well, it’s the 2nd Sunday after Easter, so it must be Doubting Thomas Sunday! We read it every year. We read of the disciples in hiding and the return of the Risen Christ, offering them the chance to see. And part of the story is Thomas refusing to believe, refusing to accept that this really WAS Jesus. You have to wonder what the disciples were thinking locked behind the door of their house. Was their grief just so unbearable that they couldn’t do anything else? Were they afraid that they would be next? Were they disillusioned that things had turned out that way? Were they feeling remorse or guilt or shame at the parts that they had played (or not played, as the case may be) in the Passion Play? I suppose it’s possible that they were a little afraid of the rumors that Jesus HAD returned. After all, what would he say to THEM? I mean, it wasn’t like they had been stellar examples of devoted followers the last few days! But that’s not what happened. Things were going to be OK. Jesus was back. The disciples rejoiced. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. They were sent. They became the community of Christ. And so I supposed they went off merrily praising God and being who they were called to be. This is a premise for discipleship. Jesus offered light and truth through his relationship with God. Now the disciples are called to offer light and truth through their relationship with Christ. All except Thomas. Poor Thomas. He wanted to see proof. Why couldn’t he just believe?
Personally, I think we give Thomas a bad wrap—after all, for some reason, he missed what the others had seen. (It is interesting that he was apparently the only one who had ventured outside! It appears the others were just hiding out.) He just wanted the same opportunity—and Jesus gave that to him. He wanted to experience it. The point was that the Resurrection is not a fact to be believed, but an experience to be shared–whatever that means for us. And perhaps, part of that experience is doubt. Constructive doubt is what forms the questions in us and leads us to search and explore our own faith understanding. It is doubt that compels us to search for greater understanding of who God is and who we are as children of God.
Hans Kung is a Swiss-born theologian and writer. He says it like this: Doubt is the shadow cast by faith. One does not always notice it, but it is always there, though concealed. At any moment it may come into action. There is no mystery of the faith which is immune to doubt. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Doubt is the shadow cast by faith. Faith in the resurrection does not exclude doubt, but takes doubt into itself. It is a matter of being part of this wonderful community of disciples not because God told us to but because our doubts bring us together. Examining our faith involves doubts, it requires us to learn the questions to ask. And it is in the face of doubt that our faith is born. God does not call us to a blind, unexamined faith, accepting all that we see and all that we hear as unquestionable truth; God instead calls us to an illumined doubt, through which we search and journey toward a greater understanding of God.
Frederick Buechner preached a sermon on this text entitled “The Seeing Heart”. In it, he reminds us of Thomas’ other name, the “Twin”. It was never really clear why he was called that, but Buechner says that “if you want to know who the other twin is, I can tell you. I am the other twin and, unless I miss my guess, so are you.” He goes on to say this: I don’t know of any story in the Bible that is easier to imagine ourselves into that this one from John’s Gospel because it is a story about trying to believe in Jesus in a world that is as full of shadows and ambiguities and longings and doubts and glimmers of holiness as the room where the story takes place is and as you and I are inside ourselves…To see Jesus with the heart is to know that in the long run his kind of life is the only life worth living. To see him with the heart is not only to believe in him but little by little to become bearers to each other of his healing life until we become fully healed and whole and alive within ourselves. To see him with the heart is to take heart, to grow true hearts, brave hearts, at last. (“The Seeing Heart”, by Frederic Buechner, in Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons)
The truth is, doubt is a normal and expected part of faith. Our faith is not a list of checkboxes that we just check off as we believe. It is not a static list of what we should think or what we should know. There is always another question after the answer or the answer just falls flat. The questions make the answers come alive. The questions are what open our eyes to see the Risen Christ. And that sight is not some sort of pat, boiler plate type of sighting. This passage shows us that Jesus shows us what we need and that we need what Jesus shows us. It is different for everyone. So Thomas needed something a little more tactile, something he could really hold. Is that so bad? I think most of us would have to admit that that might make this whole thing a little bit easier to grasp for all of us! But maybe it’s not supposed to be easy. Maybe faith is such that the questions should never end. So what do we do when doubts seep in? Go with it. Ask more questions. Live into the doubts. Maybe the Truth is not in front of our face but just beyond the fog.
Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them. (Thomas Merton)
Journey with your doubts and keep asking questions. Faith is not about certainty but about the journey toward meaning and Truth, a journey with God.
Grace and Peace,