The gospel story for this Sunday always seems to leave me with an uneasy feeling. I guess part of the reason is that I have often been in Thomas’s place. I have been the one left feeling unsure when all those around me have been so sure about what was happening. Now if you have never felt that sense of being left out, then you are truly blessed and you can go get a cup of coffee or something. But I think most of us have been in Thomas’s place at least once or twice.
I guess what bothers me the most is the way Thomas is commonly portrayed in society. The phrase “Doubting Thomas” is a byword of our language. We hear the words “Doubting Thomas” used in such a way as to make it seem as if there is something wrong with having doubts. Some theologians would have us believe that Christ was angry with Thomas for his lack of faith and that part of today’s gospel story is Jesus rebuking Thomas for his lack of faith. Maybe that is what bothers me: the concept that any feeling of doubt we may have is wrong and is shameful.
Are we bad Christians if we have doubts? I guess some would say “yes.” Some people would have us believe that doubt is a sign of sin in our lives. Some would say that if we had true, strong, faith, then we would have no reason to doubt. Some would say that doubt is a glaring flare marking our moral shortfalls. So I guess by that standard, then I have been a bad Christian; I have had doubts about Christ’s presence in my life. Like Thomas, I have questioned Christ’s presence among the living. At times I have doubted all the stories and promises I have heard from others.
The problem with thinking of Jesus as rebuking Thomas is that it doesn’t make the situation any better. The interpretation of Thomas as a “bad Christian” does not help the situation in any manner. We all have problems in our life. We feel troubled about the problems in our lives. We want to bring these troubles to Christ but feel we can’t. And why can’t we? Because we feel that in the midst of our problems we will be told that we are not good enough Christians. Because we doubt Christ’s presence, we are not good enough to bring our troubles to Christ.
When we hear these judgments and feel the pressure to be stoic in our suffering, it only heaps more trouble onto us. Not only is life difficult, but it is now our own fault that we are suffering. It almost feels like we have to have all of our problems solved before we can bring our problems to Jesus.
When we stop to think, having to solve our problems before we can bring them to Christ is pretty silly. If we could solve our problems ourselves, we wouldn’t need to bring the problems to Jesus. If Thomas could believe, he wouldn’t need to see. Thomas was in need. We are in need. Jesus does not come to rebuke us for our needs; Jesus comes to help us in our need.
That is the major point we are to take from this reading: Jesus comes to us in our need to help us. Jesus does not rebuke our need. Jesus does not punish our need. Jesus fills our need. Jesus showed his hands and his side to the other disciples so they could believe; Jesus also shows these wounds to Thomas so he may come to believe. Just as the other disciples needed to see to believe, (remember, Mary had told them about seeing the risen Christ and the disciples did not believe), so too Thomas needed to see to believe.
But what about that comment Jesus makes about seeing and believing and those who believe without seeing. Isn’t that kind of a slap in Thomas’s face? I guess we could look at it that way. However, we could also see these words as a truism. It would be better to believe and not see, but usually we don’t work that way. We usually need to see before we believe. So even though it would be better if we could believe without seeing, Jesus still comes to us and gives us what we need to be able to believe. So instead of a rebuke, Christ’s words are actually the loving words of a concerned teacher.
I stick with this interpretation because it works. I have found the Bible to be very psychologically sound. Jesus is very good at bringing out the best in people; we find this throughout the gospels. Now we know that to attack someone when they are down is no way to help bring out the best in someone. Wouldn’t our creator know the same thing? Wouldn’t our creator know that we need support in our times of fear and doubt, not rebuke and reprimand? So the story of Thomas has noting to do with how “bad” Thomas was and has everything to do with how good God is.
So how does God come to us when we are doubtful? Christ is no longer here for us to probe his hands and side. How then are we to see and believe?
This is a tough thing. This is the world we exist in. Jesus has not physically walked the earth in over two thousand years. How is the world supposed to pace their finger in the wounds in Jesus’ hands? How is the world supposed to place their hand in Jesus’ side? In our situation now, how is the world to see and know?
This is the situation of the second reading for today. The most of the people John was writing to, in his epistle, had not seen Jesus, risen or otherwise. So, because they had not seen Jesus, John was telling them the story. John was sharing with them the truth as he knew it so that the message of the risen Christ could be shared; even with those who have not had first hand experience. In sharing the message, John is making Christ real to those who are around him.
We too bring Christ to the world when we share the message. When we tell others of the life we have found in Christ. When we share the blessings we have found in life. It is when we share with the world that the world experiences Christ. It is when we share that the world gets to touch Christ’s wounds. It is when we extend love and forgiveness that the world feels love and forgiveness.
Often our personal experience of Christ is like Thomas’s; we are lost and we want proof that Christ is near. However, if we think that our feeling of being lost is bad, we will not seek out that which can help us. Christ still gives us what we need, but that gift is found in the gathered congregation. It is when we are together, when we are a “y’all”, that we can reach out and touch Christ and have Christ reach out and touch us.
The sad thing is that quite often when the world hears the word “Christian,” they think of anger and judgment. I have friends who cannot see how I can call myself a Christian when all they see are people who are much more concerned about hatred than about love.
This hurts me and it should hurt us as a community. I truly believe that the world wants to see Jesus and to touch Jesus. But what they are seeing and what is being presented to them is something that is wrong. What the world keeps presenting is a Jesus that would have nothing to do with Thomas. What the world seems to keep presenting is a Jesus that would only allow Thomas to see him after Thomas had finally become good enough.
For many people, the only Jesus they see is the Jesus of judgment that is presented on television. But I hope we know that Jesus was so much more. The Jesus we know is the Jesus who would die for us. Who was raised for us. And who would present his wounded hands to us to we may believe.
Our call is to present the Jesus of love to the world. Our call is to give to the world what it so desperately needs, the true message of love and understanding that we ourselves receive through Christ. Our call is to live out our baptismal call and share a living love to a world in need.
It would be nice of we all could believe without seeing, but we are people and we have our doubts. And Thomas was not bad because he doubted. Jesus came to address not only Thomas in his doubt, but all of the disciples and their doubts. We have the Bible to help address our doubts. But sometimes, we may be the only Bible some people will ever read. And if we don’t bring the message of Christ love to the world, there are plenty of others who will continue to spread message of judgment and hate.