Now you see me …
You’re waiting for the rest of that now, I bet. You’re expecting “now you don’t” to follow it, like that abracadabra moment when the magician disappears, right before you’re very eyes, only to reappear moments later. I can imagine how the story of those first few days after Easter might seem kind of like that. Jesus appears by the tomb, then he’s gone, appears among the disciples and he’s gone, appears to Thomas and he’s gone, appears on the road to Emmaus and then he’s gone, and so on, until he’s really gone.
Except he isn’t. And maybe that’s the real reason why the story of Thomas is so important.
Wait. Don’t say it, don’t even think it. Don’t call him that. I know you want to call him Doubting Thomas, but please don’t. I know we’ve called him that for a long time and held him up as an example of someone who doubted – as if we shouldn’t either. But I think we’ve treated Thomas unfairly because I think Thomas is the greatest of the original twelve, certainly the bravest and the most committed. I don’t think Thomas doubted Jesus for a minute. I think he chose to question the words of the other disciples, I think he didn’t believe Jesus was there in person, but I don’t think he doubted Jesus. It’s just not the same thing.
Here’s how I see it. Remember way back in John 14? Jesus had just finished the passover meal with the disciples, he talked about his betrayal and Peter’s denial and then he begins what we refer to as The Farewell Discourse (John 14-17), a final talk with the disciples before his arrest. He begins by saying to them, don’t be afraid. In God’s house there are many dwelling places, one for everyone. I’m going ahead to make a place for you and you know the way there. But one of the disciples says, we don’t know the way: tell us the way. It’s Thomas who asks that question. And he hears Jesus answer, I am the way.
I think Thomas hears that answer and knows The Way to be true and, from that moment on, doesn’t doubt Jesus for even a minute.
I think Thomas believed that Jesus died on the cross, just like everyone else did. And they did. If the criteria for doubting is not believing that Jesus is physically alive, he has a lot of company from all the gospels. Mary and the women coming to the tomb didn’t believe. They came to anoint a dead body. When Mary saw Jesus, she didn’t recognize him at first. Then she went and told the others and they didn’t believe. They were actually in hiding because they were afraid that they’d be identified as followers of Jesus. They didn’t believe until Jesus appeared to them. And we think Thomas was the only one who doubted?
I don’t think Thomas doubted at all. I think Thomas wasn’t there because he was the only one of the disciples courageous enough to be out doing what Jesus taught them to do. He was the only one brave enough to be outside, willing to identify himself as a follower of Jesus, teaching people what Jesus taught, showing people what Jesus taught, loving people and caring for people – showing people The Way. And yes, I’m sure he acknowledged it was in the shadow of Jesus having died, but I bet Thomas’ conviction was simply “Jesus is alive in me. Jesus can be alive in you.”
Thomas didn’t doubt Jesus. He had more questions of the disciples. He may even have wondered that perhaps they were simply imagining what they so desperately wanted to be true. He wanted evidence, he wanted proof that it was real. He already had that for Jesus’ teaching. He’d experienced Jesus’ love and care, his kindness and grace. He’d seen proof of The Way.
So when Thomas sees Jesus, in the flesh, he says the only thing he can think of. Not a concession or a confession, but a statement of praise, an affirmation of the deep, committed faith of a follower of The Way: “My Lord and My God!”