This poor guy. He really gets a bad rap. In this Sunday's gospel in the Revised Common Lectionary (John 20:19-31) we hear the familiar story—appropriate for the Second Sunday of Easter—of the disciple who just won't believe in the resurrected Jesus until he sees iron-clad proof.
But, seriously, do you blame this guy? I mean, the resurrection is a pretty far-fetched story. What's more, it's just too good to be true. Dear old Thomas, who has just seen his buddy get crucified, is in no mood to have his chain yanked by believing good news and then getting disappointed again. I think most of us would react in pretty much the same way. Suppose, for example, you get a phone call or a text or something that says you've just inherited half a million bucks. That would pretty good news, right? But would you automatically believe it? I know I sure as heck wouldn't! I'd want it verified. That's only human.
I suppose the point of this gospel story is found in verse 29 where Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus has a point, too. Truth be told, we take things on faith every day. If we didn't, we'd never leave our homes. How could we begin anything at all unless we had some kind of hope that our efforts would turn out for the best? Faith is integral to life.
But what intrigues me about this lesson at this point in my life is the fact that Jesus identifies himself to his disciples in verse 20 by showing them his wounded hands and side. I guess he figured they wouldn't really accept what they saw until they saw his wounds. And Thomas, too, wants to see the marks of the trauma where Christ's flesh had been violated. He actually wants to touch the place where the nails have been and where the spear gashed the Lord's side.
I guess this is really human also. There 's something about us that needs to see another's scars before we know that person is genuine. We don't really know each other or believe each other until we can see the hurt. Only then do we feel the intimacy and know the trust.
Before I went into the ministry I was teaching at a small college in Southern California. I was having some trouble with my girlfriend at the time, so one Sunday morning I stopped by my pastor's office before worship to get his advice. Roger had been my pastor for about thirteen years. He knew me pretty well, and I really respected him. I found his office door was open.
Now, Roger was a pretty big guy. He was well over six feet tall and built like a wrestler. I was surprised to find that he was not at his desk but was sitting in a tiny armchair with his eyes closed, listening to classical music on a small boom box. The lights were off in the room. For such a big guy he seemed curiously serene. There was something I felt in the atmosphere of the room which filled me with a rare, reverent sense of peace and calm. Roger's eyes were closed when I entered. When he opened them, he had a sad and exhausted look, even though it was past ten in the morning and worship would begin shortly.
I couldn't bring myself to do anything to change the peace of that office. The closest armchair to Roger seemed too far away, and I didn't want to move a chair or have him move, so I impulsively sat down cross-legged at the pastor's feet.
I don't remember the specifics of that conversation, but rather than discuss my silly girl troubles, Roger shared with me an issue he was having with one of his children. It's not necessary to recount the details, and I'm not at all certain my memory would be accurate about them anyway as this all took place almost three decades ago. But what stays in my mind about that conversation is that my pastor had shared with me a situation which could only have been extremely painful and stressful for him and his family. Roger had shown me his wounds.
I felt closer to him after that, but I lost none of the respect I had for the man. What continues to impress me as I remember Roger—who passed away a few years ago—was his unassailable faith that God would see him and his family through their current troubles. And he was right.
Thomas had known Jesus as teacher, friend, spiritual guide, and crucified victim. Yet when he met him as fellow sufferer—and triumphant sufferer—he could finally exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”
I try, as a spiritual discipline, to remind myself that in seeing the wounds of my brothers and sister—be they physical, mental or spiritual—I am seeing the holiness of Christ, my Lord and my God. And in such a realization I am killed and resurrected myself.
Thanks for reading, my friends. Christ is risen! Alleluia!
PS-It must wound Jesus to know that, after almost 500 years, Lutherans and Roman Catholics still don't share together at the Lord's table. Now, are we going to be 'Doubting Thomases,' or are we going to move forth in faith? If enough of us bug the Pope about this, maybe we might get to see some action by the time we observe the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Hey! You've got nothing to lose. Just sign my petition by clicking here.