“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:1-16)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14: 1-5)
” On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”(John 20:19-29)
The church I have been attending is in downtown St. Petersburg. It is a fairly small church plant, yet has just the right vibe within which I fit. We meet in an art gallery, and the exhibits are constantly changing… which is a great thing! A creative community in a creative environment. (If you would like to find out more about it, check it out here: http://themissiodei.com/home.htm ) This past Sunday, Doug McMahon, one of the three co-pastors, spoke about Thomas and used the last of the three scriptural passages above as his text. Doug pointed out that when Thomas finally saw the resurrected Christ, he not only looked to the wounds of Jesus, but also brought his own wounds into the room. Doug’s sermon was the impetus for my own thoughts about Thomas.
I have come to believe that the common religious practice of painting Thomas in a demeaning corner of weakness is a bit unfair. I sited the prior passages (also in John, by the way) as a means of examining the man Thomas. I believe Thomas to be:
…a practical man…
…a man of action…
…a man with a lion’s heart…
… yet a man whose underlying motivation was fear.
Thomas shows his lion’s heart in the first passage as well as a tendency towards the dramatic, when he proclaims his intention of going with Jesus back into harms way. “Let us also go,” he quips, “that we might die with him!” By this statement, Thomas belies not only a lion’s heart, but also a mind which tends first towards action. Thomas’ words sound courageous, yet I wonder what was behind them. Sometimes, the most practical way to fight fear is to go straight at it. To attack. Maybe Thomas had a feeling that the road they were on following the fearless Jesus was bound to end badly. He had to know the religious leaders were intent on crushing the insolent, big-mouthed carpenter from Nazareth; so why not confront them now? “Let’s go out in a blaze of glory!”
Thomas shows both his practical side, as well as unwillingness to let Jesus off easy as he confronts Jesus after Jesus’ eloquent promise of peace for the disciples. Thomas wants to know where Jesus is going, that he might go there, too. He is saying…practically, “How can we go where you are going, Jesus, you haven’t told us how to get there!” All the while, Thomas’ question shows a lack of trust in “the Way” Jesus. Instead, he still believes that his life and future are his own to ferret out. He is afraid to lay his life and future in the hands of Christ, so he responds in clarifying practicality.
Finally, Thomas is absent when the disciples are in a room “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders”. I have a theory about why Thomas was absent. I believe Thomas had returned to his normal life. Or maybe he was out getting food for the group. I suspect he was doing some sort of practical activity.
Jesus was dead. Sitting around and crying would not bring him back. Besides, it felt more comforting to be in motion, as if the motion could keep away the reality of Jesus death…or Thomas’ grief. “It feels too out of control to grieve. I need to be DOING something!”
Anyway… the scripture isn’t descriptive of what or where Thomas was, he just wasn’t with the disciples. I think it notable, that the disciples were locked into a place of fear. So, I believe, was Thomas. While the disciples’ fear led them to hide away, and worry about the unknown future together; Thomas’ fear may have led him to face into reality. He was locked into a place of action and personal control. A different expression of the same emotion. While the disciples’ fear was expressed more like a lamb, Thomas’ fear was expressed like a lion.
For both the group of disciples and Thomas, the resurrected Christ walked through their self-imposed walls of fear, to join them in their isolation. Thomas’ statement about seeing and touching the wounds of the living Christ before trusting, is not surprising… it is practical. It is a statement of grief and anger of having trusted in someone he saw die, and Thomas’ hopes with him. Thomas needed to touch and see the open wounds of the living Christ, before he would open his own woundedness to be healed by them. So, Jesus joins him in his place of fear, yet invites him out of the isolation of his personal need for control and into faith in the activity of God, rather than his own.
(More to come…)