Thomas gets a bad rap. He is only saying the things we’d all think or say when given the same circumstances. Think about it. We’re so used to Jesus being divine, and reading the stories of the Bible, that when does something interesting, or miraculous, or in this case a little spooky, we all say “well, that’s just Jesus; and anyone who doesn’t believe that just doesn’t believe in Jesus.”
We forget that these are just folks, and what they’ve just gone through has been hard. Lots of stuff has happened that has been hard to believe for the people living through it, just like it would be for us.
They’re in that upper room, and remember the story says that the door was locked. No one heard the door open, no one heard the door close, no one heard the lock being picked, and yet, here he is all of a sudden. This is the first time, at least in John, that they see him. He’s supposed to be dead! The sotyr that the women have told is all very good and interesting, and they’ve seen the empty tomb.
“OK”, they say, “the body isn’t here. What’s next?” This is what’s next.
Jesus appears to them, and says “look at me, I’m here. Look at the holes in my hand, look at the cut in my side.”
This proves two things: He’s Jesus, and that he isn’t a ghost. He’s tangible, physical. In another text, he eats a piece of fish to prove it.
He’s for real. That’s what the resurrection did.
Poor Thomas, he’s not there. Maybe he’s off getting the hot dogs and buns right then. He comes back, and they all say “You’re not going to believe what just happened! Apparently Jesus came, did the thing, and left before Thomas got there. So Thomas hears the story, and responds like we all would, like Cosby in the Noah routine: “Riiight!”
And so, as an indicator of grace, Jesus comes back at the same time the next week. And is it fair to think he came back for Thomas? I think so. He gives everyone his peace again, and then pulls Thomas aside, and gives him the same opportunity he gave everyone else.
What else could Thomas respond with, other than “My Lord and my God!” It’s all righ there, literally and flesh and blood.
What gives Thomas a bad rap is the general interpretation of the last line, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” It has come to mean “Those of you who expect empirical or scientific proof of Christ are foolish.”
I beg to differ. The things that Jesus is asking those first disciples to believe in that first visit; he tells them that his peace he brings to them, and his peace he leaves with them, and he breathes on them the Holy Spirit; this is John’s version of Pentecost, right here.
And then he shows up again to do the same thing for Thomas. And they are all sent out to do what Jesus was doing; teach, do miracles, even die in the faith. To spread the story around the world; not just among Jews, but Gentiles, too; Peters’ Centurion, Philip’s Eunuch, and others. The world began to spread out, but it had to start with these disciples.
Now imagine these mean and women. You’ve now been told that you can do what Jesus did. You can heal and teach, too.
Can you imagine what Peter must have felt like, that first time, as he tried to heal? And then what he felt like when it did happen?
Wouldn’t that prove to you that you could, if you did?
That’s proof, isn’t it?
So maybe Thomas isn’t such a bad guy, then, for wanting proof.
I don’t know many here among us who can lay hands on and heal, or other stuff that gets done in Scripture. But we can still see proof of the love of God in the people around us.
We all know people whose life just seems to be a succession of difficulties. And yet they know that God is not the source of their struggle, but rather God is the companion. Sure, they may have made bad choices, or just circumstances, but God is with them at all times.
When they say that “God is with them”, instead of “why Lord have you done this”, it is proof of faith.
There’s a scene from the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, that gets shown often in churches equipped with the technology when the subject of faith is raised.
The background is like this-Indy’s father has been shot, and they know that the cup of Christ can save him. So Indy is sent to face the trials that must be faced before the cup is recovered. He’s avoided the head-cutting saws of the first test by kneeling like a penitent man, and now, he’s faced with a chasm across which it’s too far to jump, and there is nothing to use his bullwhip on a swinging vine.
Now he’s got the clue in the book with him, and it’s a knight walking in midair across this chasm. And the words say “you must walk by faith”. Well, Indy’s got trouble with this, because he knows he has no faith. And yet, here he must, with his dad dying behind him.
So he closes his eyes, and steps out into midair, and falls into the chasm.
Except he doesn’t. Instead, he comes down onto a rock bridge that has been carved to look exactly like the facing rock wall, as an optical illusion. Until he stepped out in faith, he did not know that it was there.
This is what we have to do when we step out in faith, too. In the beginning. After a few times of stepping out in faith, we begin to trust it’s there, and faith of that sort isn’t as necessary as it had been.
Many of us are like Indy. Maybe we don’t have the trust in God that seems to be required of the churchy people around us. Maybe we haven’t had the experiences that cause us to believe, yet. We need proof in our own lives.
Our proof comes in acting out of faith. John Wesley has said that we must “preach Christ until you have Christ”.
There is a goal to which all Christians aspire, and that is to have faith in God at every moment of the day. And the way to do that is to prove it to ourselves, and the best way to prove it is to act as if you believe.
After a while, those who trust in faith who began by saying, “O, my goodness this is scary, will God show up”, start to say instead “Oh, goody, Let’s see where God shows up this time!”
We have to grow into the sight of God in the world. We have to experience the arrival enough times that it becomes less scary, and more anticipated.
So, when Jesus says “blessed are those who do not see and yet believe”, it isn’t a rebuke. It is a technique. It is how we grow in faith. It is necessary for growth in faith.
How to put your foot out into the chasm and trust that it will land on the rock bridge, and eventually just know that it is there.