But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.’ — John 20
Poor doubting Thomas. There ought to be a beatitude for the guy.
Blessed are the doubters... for they shall not be suckered in... and though their phones ringeth off the hook during the dinner hour they shall not fall for telemarketing fraud. Nor shall they be caught up in Wall Street Ponzie schemes. Yea verily, though they be compassed about on every side by friends and television commercials who plead earnestly with them to do this or that, blessed are they, for they shall check their facts and make up their own minds.
Blessed are the doubters, for once they have been given the chance to live into their doubts, like Thomas, their faith shall be all the deeper for it.
Some Christians are afraid that doubt is a sin, but it’s not. Only humans are offended if you doubt them God doesn’t think like we do. Jesus doesn't criticize Thomas for his doubts — he knew Thomas. Thomas was brave and utterly dedicated to Jesus. In John 11, when Jesus decided to go into terrible danger by returning to Bethany because Lazarus had died, it says, "Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’" Thomas spoke his mind. In John 14, Jesus said, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’" Thomas said to him, "‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’"
Jesus isn’t offended. Jesus reacts as God does. He just opens himself up, allows himself to be questioned, explored, examined. He doesn’t argue with Thomas. He has more of an attitude of, “Come and see.” In First John it says, "God is light and in him there is no darkness." He's not going to get angry or impatient. God can take your doubt. God can take your anger.
Doubt can be a tremendous gift from God, an invitation to draw closer and touch the wounds. Doubt can be a call to examine the Body beneath the skin, an invitation to touch what I don't know and haven't seen, what I don't quite believe.
Thomas became a great believer in short order. But, some of us have created a Jesus we're afraid to touch. We've made him into a porcelain doll. We’re afraid to doubt as if Jesus is so fragile, he might wobble off the shelf and break. Baby Jesus is fine at Christmas, but I'll tell you, in my life I need a grown up Jesus. Thank you, God for giving us a real Jesus! One that we can doubt and touch and hold onto in life’s storms and have faith in. After all the doubt, Jesus gives an even greater gift: He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The real Jesus meets us in our doubts. Theology is a fancy word priests and academics use to describe sitting around, drinking tea, and chatting about what we think God is like. Today’s Gospel is about God meeting us where we live... in the flesh. This is called Incarnation theology. It is an understanding that the physical matters to God and that God is present in the physical. Again in First John:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.
God runs out and meets us in our doubts and our unbelief and lets us touch and handle and see and try things. In my life, it always has seemed I recognized God when I was most in doubt and most broken. Has it been that way for you too? When everything is going just fine, we skim along paying little attention, but when everything falls apart, we cry, "Where is God?" God has left heaven and pitched a tent among us. God reigns here. God is not someplace else. The only way to know God is in the incarnation, the real “stuff” of life: The rejoicing of springtime, the resurrection of the earth, in our jobs, in our relationships and fellowship with each other.
For so many Christians, fellowship with one another is based on a long list of requirements: Do you believe exactly like I do on all the major controversies of the day? But in John 1, their fellowship was based, not a list of requirements, but on walking together and a sense of being forgiven: "But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us." Even forgiveness of sins was changed in today’s Gospel: “If you forgive sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’" Forgiveness is no longer passive waiting for God to act, but somehow embedded in our relationship with one another. We have an active role in the reconciliation of the world and each other.
We don’t have a porcelain, fragile Jesus who goes all wobbly if we have human doubts and fears. We have a tough Jesus, a grown-up Jesus, a real Jesus, a Jesus who comes to live among us. Scripture points to the real Jesus, but it's not the real Jesus - let’s not confuse the two. John says everything has been "Written so that you may come to believe... and believing ... have life." Many other signs were done, but this is enough so you can have life. All of this is just to point us to real life with our Lord. All the scriptural proof-texting and theology done by all the theologians and priests and scribes and rabbis did not lead to the revelation of the risen Christ. That revelation only came when the risen living Christ walked alongside the disciples grieving his death on the road to Emmaus, and he went in with them and broke the bread. That revelation only came through allowing Thomas to doubt. That revelation only comes through the sharing of bread and wine. It is in the bread and wine where Jesus comes so close he breathes on you, as he did the early disciples, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”