Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Every time we read this Gospel, I feel bad for Thomas. When you heard the Gospel reading this morning, what did you think to yourselves? I bet I know. Most of us went to the phrase, “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas, who wouldn’t believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead until he had seen the Lord. Poor Thomas has been labeled the “Doubting” Thomas for centuries. But there is so much more to Thomas than this passage. He is remembered in history from one statement he made to his fellow disciples after the crucifixion when their leader, teacher, Lord and Master, Jesus, had been killed and they were in hiding – afraid they would be the next to be arrested and killed. Is it fair to judge Thomas from this one incident? There isn’t much that Scripture has to say about Thomas, but he is mentioned three other times in the Gospel of John.
We meet Thomas at the raising of Lazarus. The others are afraid. Jesus wants to return to Jerusalem, in spite of the fact that the priests were trying to stone him. Thomas is the one who says, “Let us go too, that we might die with him.” Does that sound like doubt to you? We meet up again with Thomas at the Last Supper. Jesus is explaining that he is leaving to prepare a place for his disciples, and that they can follow, because they know the way. Thomas is the one who pipes up and contradicts Jesus, “But we don’t know the way!” Does that sound like doubt? The third time we see Thomas, the disciples are out fishing after the Resurrection. Jesus comes and has breakfast with the group. Thomas is there, an accepted member of the group. Does that sound like doubt?
Thomas followed Jesus for his entire three-year ministry. He was there for the miracles, the stories, the arguments. He was there listening to Jesus turn the status quo, of society at the time, on its head. Thomas was there to listen and confront Jesus when he didn’t understand. Thomas and the disciples really didn’t understand Jesus at all. They thought he was the Jewish Messiah. Jesus was going to save Israel from the Roman occupation and make Israel the great nation it used to be. The disciples were shocked and disappointed on Good Friday. Jesus was nailed to the cross as a common criminal. They had no idea that God’s power was going to be the power of love on the cross, not military power. They really didn’t start understanding until after the Resurrection. What marvelous good news!
At the first visit from Jesus in the house, Thomas isn’t there. We aren’t told the reason, but it’s obvious he is still a part of the group. The small community that followed Jesus is staying together to support one another through this tragedy. The relationships forged over the last three years are strong, but are they strong enough? Thomas is not buying any part of their story about Jesus being alive. Instead of doubting (as the popular label would have us believe) Thomas doesn’t doubt at all. Thomas is absolutely sure that Jesus was dead. He saw Jesus taken to be crucified. In Thomas’s world, the dead stay dead. He understood, all right. Has this ever been your story? Have you ever been so very sure . . . and so very wrong?
The disciples are together again in the house. They are filled with wonder at what they’ve seen. All, that is, except Thomas. He is feeling sad and lost. Then, the light of Jesus fills the house. Jesus says, “Be at peace. You, too, Thomas. Here I am. Put your fingers in my hands and side.” Jesus doesn’t fuss. Jesus just patiently holds out his hands in love. And Thomas finds he doesn’t need to put his hands in the wounds. Thomas’s eyes are opened. He says, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus is not a ghost. Jesus is flesh and blood. And Jesus is God. Then, Jesus tells him, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” It sounds like Jesus is giving Thomas a bit of a slap on the wrist. But really what Jesus said is not just directed at Thomas. Jesus is speaking to all believers.
When this gospel was written, the Christian community was in trouble. They were being persecuted and expelled from the synagogues. Their belief in Jesus was being tested. Hearing this Gospel, Jesus saying, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe” reminded them that they, too, were part of the story. The first readers of John’s Gospel were being arrested and persecuted. Yet they heard Jesus’s words blessing them – even though they hadn’t seen. Jesus comes to us in the bread and wine. Jesus fills us with his love, his peace, his power. Just like those early Christians, we are sent as Jesus sent them, to share Jesus’s story with those outside, who desperately need the good news that God loves them! Jesus in the bread and wine, with the promise of forgiveness. Jesus in the stories. Jesus in the hearts of us who believe. Amen.