Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
This week our journey of significant words of scripture brings us to a potent word in the realm of faith. One that can get shunted aside as anathema to faith. The word is Doubt.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
This is just after the resurrection. Everyone is confused about everything. Jesus is showing up here, there, and yonder. On the night of the resurrection John has Jesus coming back to the upper room where the disciples are hiding behind locked doors. Jesus reveals himself to them. He shows them his hands and his side. But Thomas skipped church, he wasn’t there. Later the others tell him, “We have seen the Lord.”
That’s all well and good. Thomas, however, says what I think most of us would have said: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Is Thomas being obstinate or is he being real? Can any of us come to the Christian faith by taking someone else’s word for it? Don’t we need to experience it for ourselves? Don’t I need to know the resurrected Christ? It’s all well and good that you had this awareness, but I need it too. Don’t we all need to see something? Don’t we all need to put our hands into the evidence of who Jesus Christ is in the world today? I think so.
I can see myself in Thomas. It would be just like me to skip church on the night of the resurrection – to be in the wrong place at the wrong time! I understand his skepticism too.
Thomas is thinking:
Jesus was crucified by the Roman Empire on Friday. That was real. He hung on that cross from 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon and suffocated to death. They took him down and buried him in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. I know all of you saw something else, but I’ve got to see that too. You don’t get to judge me for needing what you encountered.
We live for the “yets.’ We live in the hope that there’s more for me to experience—more for me to know. We live hoping that God overcomes our sin, rolls back the stones of oppression and brings life where there once was death. We want this to be true!
Thomas wanted to see the evidence. It’s the people who don’t want to see it that may be of concern. It’s the people who are satisfied to live with the stone rolled across the door, with guards stationed at the tomb, who may need an invitation to come back next week. It’s one thing to doubt, it’s another thing to live your entire life outside the room of experiencing Christ, never knowing there is something more than what you know.
Tom Long, my preaching professor, encouraged us to visualize a skeptic when writing a sermon. His idea was to have in mind someone who wouldn’t buy all of this just because we say it’s true. So when I write often I imagine that skeptic sitting somewhere in the back, or maybe up in the balcony, arms folded across the chest, waiting to hear something that makes sense. I want to craft a sermon that tries to get into that person’s mind and heart.
Frankly, though, I think we all bring a little skeptic into the room. All of us need to see what God is revealing today. There can be a tinge of doubt in all of us.
How do you make someone see the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ for them? How do you lead someone to that experience? How do you serve as a conduit for the truth for people who live in doubt? What does it take to convince a person to move from that place of disbelief to belief, from un-acceptance to acceptance, from closed to open, from unaware to aware, from asleep to awake?
Truth be told, is this not the work of the Holy Spirit among us? We can’t make this happen.
Let us not forget that Jesus showed up in that room. Nobody went out and retrieved him. Nobody organized this. It wasn’t a strategic plan, or leadership retreat follow-up. It was a divine plan. No one saw this coming, not any of them saw it coming. We are dependent upon God’s revelation to the world. You don’t make that happen, you receive it.
We doubt what we don’t know. We need to put our hands in the evidence. We need to see what God is doing. We are shrouded in mystery. We live on a ball that is spinning at 66,000 miles an hour in the middle of space. That’s weird! We know very little about anything, really. We take the stars for granted. We see the sun and the moon but we have very little explanation for the universe in which we live. We’re borderline clueless. We can observe but we cannot explain. Some of us live a half inch from the truth. We’re almost there! We need to see it for ourselves.
All this is to say, that I would argue that Thomas is a wonderful role model. He wanted to see it. He wanted to experience it. He was honest about where he was and where he wanted to be. He put himself in the right place the next week when Jesus showed up again. And Jesus said to him: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe. But Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Did you notice? He never put his hands in Jesus’ wounds. He didn’t need to. Jesus had put his hands into Thomas’ heart. That’s where the power of the Gospel is. So let’s not refer to him as “Doubting Thomas.” For he is really “Believing Thomas.”
He is somebody who stayed on the journey long enough to move into a deeper, richer experience with Jesus Christ.
He is somebody who was honest about who he was and what he needed.
He was somebody who longed to have the experience that others had – and he came back a week later to get it.
He deserves more than a bad rap. He deserves a “Thank you” for serving as a mirror for us to gain a glimpse of ourselves, inviting us to name our doubts and to embrace the invitation to experience the resurrected Christ.