Thomas the Believer
Jesus knows who we truly are
When I was in seminary, fall of '77, I was taking a course on the gospel of John from Dr. Dick Reid. In the class was a student named John, from India. He was a minister in the Mar-Toma Church, a sister church to the Episcopal Church, a partner church in the Anglican Communion. Thomas is the patron saint of the Mar-Toma Church. (It bears his name.)
I had never heard John speak—he was a slight man—but in this class, talking about the Thomas passage in the gospel, John stood up to his full, bristling 5 feet four inches, and proclaimed loudly: "Let's get this one thing straight—Thomas was NOT a Doubter." Then he sat down.
So let's make an assumption—Thomas was not a doubter. Rather, he was an ardent, strong-willed apostle. He, no doubt, had heard from the disciples who were present Easter night when Jesus had appeared. He had heard what Jesus did—he had breathed on them, recalling the way Yahweh had breathed into Adam's nostrils to animate him. And Thomas understood that Jesus was breathing into life a new Spirit-filled creation.
Thomas knew that he had tried just as the other disciples had tried to go out as a "sent" one, an apostolein, to forgive sins, and to tell the story of the resurrection. And had failed. He stumbled against the same problem each of us stumbles against—"If only I could see Jesus now, and know for myself that he lives, then I could be a worthwhile disciple."
Probably other disciples—even those who had seen Jesus the week before—had had the same difficulty; they hadn't been able to get through to the people around them the utter necessity of repenting, turning to Christ, and living in the power of the resurrection.
So, when they were all gathered together again one week later (the Sunday after Easter), they were wondering about what Mary and Peter had told them—that they had seen the Lord alive. When all of a sudden, Jesus stood among them and said, "Shalom." And then, Jesus turned to Thomas, "Establish it by putting your finger here that I am alive, have faith." And without touching him, Thomas exclaimed, "My Lord & my God!" The others witnessed it, and had their faith bolstered.
Here is the elegant, indulgent, risen Jesus; victorious and personally available. He knew they needed continual contact. He knew them, had eaten countless meals with them, had sat for hours wrestling out belief; Jesus knew what each feared and what each could give to lead fearlessly. So his visit indulged Thomas, but more importantly it showed them each that falling short was okay; Jesus comes to each and puts wavering belief back in balance.
After all, Jesus had died for them! He cared so intimately for them and all who would come to know him through them that he would be with them always. To me, that's the critical message of Thomas Sunday. A message of relationship. Jesus relates to every Thomas, every Peter, every George, and accepts us. So the question of success or failure is moot—rather, the question is, "Am I honoring Christ? Do I act in caring response to others as Jesus has with me?"
I heard a story from a colleague recently. It illustrates the way Jesus knows so intimately our needs, unique to each of us alone.
"A pastor was invited to eat the evening meal with a family in his church. As he stopped his car and walked up the sidewalk, he was met with two boys, ages seven and five. The five-year-old was mentally slow. As they walked to the house, their father drove up into the driveway. Both boys left the preacher and ran to their daddy. On the way, the seven year old stopped and picked up a flower to present to his father. The younger son did not quite understand. He reached down, picked up a handful of dust and rocks to give to his father. The dad picked each boy up and hugged him. The preacher heard the father say, "Thank you for the flower. And thank you for the rocks."
As Jesus dealt with Thomas's needs, so he deals with us all. And in our own experiences we can come to say: "My Lord and my God!" We finally learn what each disciple learned: to speak our faith in our own way, giving our own account of the life breathed into us as new creatures of resurrection power.
Now it makes sense that Thomas was late on the scene to witness the resurrection. Each of us comes to faith in her own time, and relates to the risen Lord personally. Yet what affects one of us affects us all—so that my need can be an opportunity for another to learn his story more fully.
And finally what Thomas teaches me is this—all our stories are God's story. Jesus is not reported to have left that room where the disciples were. It simply states, "Now Jesus did many other signs among the disciples which are not written in this book." Where else better to find Jesus now, than among the disciples he has never left? Among you and me, whose every gift he prizes because he knows us so intimately he would die and rise again to receive us, embrace us and send us forth to tell the world, "We have seen the Lord!"
Copyright ©2003 Calvary Episcopal Church
This homily was delivered at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, on April 27, 2003, the Second Sunday of Easter.