Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Revisiting Jesus' Appearance to Thomas

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.’ 27Then 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.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’  --John 20:24-29

We like to make Thomas the focal point of this story.  It's understandable. 

Many find in Thomas a kindred spirit--a person who has doubt; who has trouble believing even when all of his friends are sincere in their belief of what they have seen and heard.  Despite the personal evidence put forth by his friends, the witness of the women, the empty tomb, and the things Jesus Himself said before His crucifixion, Thomas does not, cannot believe.

He needs hard evidence, "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."

Thomas is one of the first scientists confronted with the resurrection.

But, again, this story is not about Thomas.  Sometimes, it's hard for us to realize this because we tend to be focused on, well, us.  And in some ways, this isn't bad because the Story of Redemption found in Scripture is indeed about God's relationship with us.  We are a definite part of the story, but we are not the focus of the story.  When we focus on ourselves, we miss the point.  We miss the main actor.  The main actor, the focal point of the Story of Redemption is God--the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This snippet of the Gospel of John is not focused on Thomas.  It's focused on Jesus, and it is terribly important to realize what Jesus does with Thomas the skeptic.

Notice in the story how Jesus appears in the room when Thomas finally decides to join the group.  Jesus appears and offers His greeting, "Peace be with you."

Immediately, He turns to Thomas.  He doesn't offer any criticism.  He doesn't chastise.  He doesn't berate Thomas for his skepticism or doubt.  "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."

Jesus brings Thomas to faith.  Jesus meets Thomas where Thomas needs Him.  Jesus offers Thomas evidence; evidence that none of his friends could offer.

This story is about Jesus and His action of bringing people to faith.  And how does Jesus accomplish this?  Through compassion.  Through understanding.  Through tailor making evidence geared for the person who needed it given in a certain manner.

It is only after Thomas comes to belief that Jesus offers criticism, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Now, what does this focus on Jesus tell us about our role in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ?

First off, I believe it tells us to remember who actually brings people to faith.  It is not us.  It's Jesus.  Thomas has been with the rest of the disciples for three years.  They knew one another and generally trusted one another.  Yet, he didn't believe them.  There was no way they were going to argue Thomas to believe.  All they could do was plant the seeds, but Jesus had to bring faith to fruition.

Second, I believe it tells us to lead with compassion as did Jesus.  Too often, we in the Church lead with criticism or fear mongering.  "You'd better believe or you are going to hell!"  Did you see Jesus do that with Thomas?  No.  Jesus reached out to Thomas when Thomas could not reach out to Jesus.  Jesus took the step of offering evidence on Thomas' terms without making demands.  This is so crucial to understanding how God acts--God grants mercy before asking for obedience and offering criticism.  As "little Christs" or Christians if you prefer that term, we should go and do likewise.

Third, there was no watering down belief.  Another part of the Church is quite guilty of doing just this.  Jesus did not tell Thomas afterward to continue in his doubts.  Jesus said, "Do not doubt but believe."  When Jesus offers Himself to us and convicts us that He is indeed alive, we rest our trust in Him--fully and completely.  We do not continue to raise doubt that He was raised from the dead.  We stand absolutely firm in our conviction and understanding.  Hope overrides doubt.  Faith overrides doubt.  Love overrides doubt.  This doesn't mean we don't have moments of weakness, but when such times arise, we cling to the promises of the cross and resurrection.  "Do not doubt but believe!"

Focusing on Jesus in this text has tremendous implications for how we operate as a Church in this post-modern world.  We must remember who brings people to faith and how He does it.  We must remember to lead with compassion and yet stubbornly, tenaciously, and without apology hold fast to an unwavering belief that Jesus is Lord and He is risen.

He is risen indeed!

1 comment:

David said...

Very good insight. All too often we tend to place ourselves in the text as the central figure. As a favorite seminary professor used to say "God is the subject of the active verb!"