Magazine article The Christian Century

The Show-Me Disciple. (Living by the Word)

Magazine article The Christian Century

The Show-Me Disciple. (Living by the Word)

Article excerpt

Sunday, April 7 John 20:19-31

SO WHERE WAS THOMAS anyway that first Easter evening? In my childhood Sunday school classes, Thomas was a "bad guy." When the other ten disciples told him that Jesus was alive after his crucifixion, Thomas refused to believe it. He separated himself from the others and demanded to see Christ for himself. In short, we learned that he was a dull, doubting follower of Christ whom we should not imitate. The moral of the story was clear--Don't be like Thomas! Believe! Don't doubt!

But I confess to a sneaking attraction to the rogues of scripture--Jacob the con artist, Jeremiah the complaining prophet, Peter the impulsive disciple. Perhaps because I've often found myself in Christian communities where no one voices doubt or struggle, I am reluctant to dismiss Thomas. At my evangelical college, we didn't talk about our fears or failures because we thought others would judge us as unspiritual. And in churches that display only facades of niceness, I've discovered all sorts of anxieties and resentments festering underneath. I've watched people struggling alone with deep questions because they were afraid of how others might react to their doubts. Doubts and uncertainty frighten us. That's why we reject Thomas--he dares to bring doubt into our lives of faith.

When I take a close look, I realize that Thomas is a practical, concrete sort of guy. Earlier in John's Gospel, Thomas insists that the disciples accompany Jesus when he goes to Bethany, a place he'd had to leave under threat of being stoned. Thomas supports Jesus' apparently suicidal plan with, "Let us also go that we may die with him." Even better, in the midst of Jesus' long farewell discourse, Thomas speaks up, cutting through Jesus' mystical, poetic and downright baffling language. Jesus assures his followers, "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.... where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going," to which Thomas replies, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Thomas is plainspoken and gutsy. He wants to understand what's going on, and be able to face the situation at hand.

So where is Thomas that first Easter evening when the other disciples are hiding in the upper room? Is he faithless, separating himself from the community? Remember, Mary Magdalene has told the group that she has seen Jesus. Maybe Thomas can't imagine hiding when someone has just reported seeing Jesus alive. Perhaps he is trying to find out the truth. Or maybe he is the only disciple with enough sense to recognize that this hiding thing could take a long time, and that he'd better go out and get milk and bread for the group. …

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