19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name. (CEB)
The Faith of Thomas
It always worried me when I was a kid in school. Whether it was gym class or recess, I hated the drama of it. The anxiety it caused in me and others, no matter if it was dodge ball, kickball, soccer, or baseball always made me hitch my breath. I worried about who would be the last one. You see, I was never considered by my peers to be significant enough to warrant an early draft pick. If I made the fifth round, I felt pretty good. It is not fun at all to be the last one picked, the one left out, the one chosen because I was the only piece of meat left standing there, waiting with baited breath, fear, and anticipation.
The thing is, I was good at dodge ball. There were several times in elementary and middle school where I was the last one standing. But I didn’t look like I was good. Physically, I fit the nerdy, scrawny profile. Of course, I may have been the last one standing because I was so skinny that I made for a difficult target. Advantage me, I guess. But I was still never picked in the top rounds. I was one of the little kids who got left out. So I know exactly how Thomas felt.
You have to understand Thomas. He was one of the Twelve. He was a disciple. He was the one who knew what would happen to Jesus before the others, and he accepted that fate without batting an eye. He loved Jesus so much that he just kind of accepted it with reckless abandon. Do you remember the story from John 11, when Jesus heard that Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, was ill? He waited a few days and told the Disciples he wanted to return to Judea again. But the Disciples were like, Whoa, Jesus. The Jewish opposition wants to stone you to death, and you want to go back?
Jesus told them that Lazarus was dead, and he was going. So, while the other Disciples were standing there trying to decide if they should go with Jesus or fake a sudden illness, Thomas says this: “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.” (John 11:16b, CEB).
It’s like Thomas is the Disciples’ little ray of encouraging sunshine. Come on, guys. You knew this was gonna happen sooner or later. This crazy dude was bound to get himself killed eventually. Why’re you acting so surprised? Are we gonna follow him or not? Let’s just go and die with him, already. He’s our friend, Lazarus was our friend. We’re all gonna die eventually. We may as well go out together like Thelma and Louise. (They probably didn’t see that movie, though). So they go, and a few chapters later, Jesus is dead.
Thomas got it. He knew. And he rolled with it.
Another thing about Thomas—and talk about being the guy who was left out—we don’t really know Thomas’s name. Thomas wasn’t actually his name. Nobody was named Thomas in the ancient world because it wasn’t a name. Thomas was applied to him as sort of a distinguisher. Like, if you have two people with the same name, but one has freckles and the other one doesn’t, after the hundredth time of saying, Hey, Jennifer, and having two girls turning around to say, “What?”, you might start to address the one with freckles like this: Hey, Freckles! (And just a disclaimer, I think freckles are exceedingly cute. So if you have freckles, chances are I think you’re cuter than the people who aren’t lucky enough to have them).
According to some traditions, Thomas’s given name was Judas. But he was called Thomas, which is the Aramaic word for twin in order to distinguish him from the other Judas. So every time someone called him Thomas they were saying, “Hey, Twin.” Can you imagine the other nicknames he would have had? Twain. Mirror-man. Double-vision. Double-mint (I mean they always had twins in the commercials), The Better Judas.
So, for posterity, we don’t even know the guy’s name for certain. He was one of the Disciples! Shouldn’t someone have written his name down? Poor Twin! Or, whatever his name was. He got left out in so many ways. And then, to add salt to the wound posterity has already given him, everyone knows this story. Everyone knows the name for this story. What do we call it? It’s the story of… Doubting Thomas! He’s labeled for all time as a doubter!
I mean, come on! Not even Judas got it that bad! We all know Judas Iscariot’s name. No one calls him Betraying Judas or Sell-out Judas. It’s just Judas Iscariot. No one calls Peter Denying Peter. But poor Doubting Twin didn’t even get his proper name written down. It stinks being the kid who is always left out, the kid whose name no one remembered. My nickname in elementary school was Chicken-legs. That’s how skinny I was. Thank goodness that one didn’t stick. People might be calling me Pastor Chicken-legs to this day. (And no. You’re not allowed to start calling me that).
I get Thomas. I get why he was upset. And that’s the thing. I think he was more upset than disbelieving. I think he felt more dejected than doubting. Because what happened? Mary Magdalene got to see Jesus, face-to-face. She came running back to the Disciples saying, “I’ve seen the Lord!” (John 20:18b, CEB). Then, the Disciples locked themselves in a room because they were afraid. And Jesus shows up in the midst of them, he shows them the wounds in his hands and his side. He makes them believe that it’s really him. It’s really Jesus who has been raised!
But Thomas wasn’t there. Thomas had gone outside, which just proves that he was the bravest disciple among them. The others were cowering in a locked room, but Thomas probably said, Guys, I’m hungry. I’m going out for Chinese. You want anything? They have these little carry-out boxes now.
You see, Thomas was the one Disciple—the ONE Disciple—who was NOT hiding in a locked room! He was the one with courage.
So, imagine how the Courageous Anonymous Twin felt when he got back and the other Disciples met him with joyous enthusiasm told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” (CEB). I bet he threw the Chinese take-out across the room. I mean, who among us wouldn’t have felt left out? Who among us wouldn’t have felt downright betrayed. Couldn’t Jesus have waited for them all to be together? Did Jesus leave him out on purpose? He had been willing to die for the Lord, he had been faithful, he had been the glue that held the group together when the others didn’t want to return to Judea, and Jesus showed up when he was gone?
I would have said it, too. I would have called bologna. I would have said, I deserve the same proofs you guys got! I deserve to see his wounds, too. I deserve to know for sure that it’s him. I followed him all this way, too, and he left me out! I deserve to see. So until I do, I won’t believe!
It makes Thomas sounds more like a child with hurt feelings than a doubter. And I imagine that’s exactly what he was. Hurt. Dejected. Offended. Annoyed. Betrayed. And belligerent enough because of it to simply refuse to acknowledge what his heart probably already knew to be true. And I’ll tell you in a second why I think Thomas already knew it.
Jesus made him wait a week. A week! Gosh, when I was a kid I hated it when my parents let me stew longer than a few hours, but a week! Ouch!
But I bet Jesus gave The Twin that amount of time because he needed it. When Thomas was ready, Jesus appeared again in the midst of the Disciples. He gave Thomas the same proofs he had given the others, but he gave Thomas something more. He showed his wounds to the others, but for Thomas he offered touch. He invited a kind of intimacy denied to the others. He told Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him. But he invited Thomas to come close. “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” (CEB).
Thomas’s response is why I think he really did believe, but refused only because he felt hurt and rejected. He answers Jesus’ invitation by uttering one of the most profound proclamations about Jesus in the New Testament, “My Lord and my God!” (CEB). Now, that is a statement of faith. That’s why I think Thomas really believed without seeing, but chose to cross his arms and pout in his hurt and anger because he knew who Jesus was. Jesus didn’t have to leave him out.
In that moment, I think Thomas recognized that Jesus understood him in ways no one else could. Jesus, too, had been rejected. He had been betrayed. He had been cast off. He knew Thomas’s wounds inside and out.
The thing is, everyone in our world seems to be searching for some connection to God or to some kind of divinity or spirituality beyond ourselves. We all want connection. We want to believe in something out there that transcends our struggle-filled lives and understands us. John’s Gospel tells us that we find connection to God in the wounded body of Jesus Christ. No one knows our wounds better. No one offers the kind of invitation to God that Jesus offers. No one has sought us so relentlessly as Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.
In the wounded body of Jesus, God takes the worst of human behavior and the worst of human experience into God’s own self and transforms it. God transforms brokenness into healing and wholeness in individuals, in entire communities, and—indeed—for the whole human race.
We may no longer see Jesus in the flesh, but we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and be our connection to God. We have a meal where we receive the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus into our own bodies and receive grace beyond measure. God has given us what we need to believe, even if we cannot see or touch as Thomas did. In the broken body of Jesus Christ, we have healing and wholeness, we have community and connection, we have belonging and we have an invitation to abundant life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!