I Love to Tell the Story: Thomas                                              7/10/16 Central

John 20:19-29

Deborah G. Foster

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.”
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told [Thomas] 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.”

 

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and this time, Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and            stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

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. *

 

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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.”


The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Luke

 

I spent the first half of my ministry working with teenagers. Every youth group has its favorite late night group games. We played a game that combing 3 or 4 decks of cards.

  • After shuffling cards, the giant deck is dealt. So – in the end
    each player had a large stack of cards in their hands.
  • The object of the game is to be the first person to get rid of your cards.

Who ever “goes first” has to play an Ace and announce how many Aces they are putting in the pile at the center of the circle. They do so even if they do not actually have the actual card they are declaring to put on the pile.

 

The only on who knows what is in the stack is the person who held, touched the card and played it.

 

As you sit at the table you know as people go in-turn around the circle  from Ace, to 2,s, 3s, 4, 5s and so on, someone will be bluffing. That is when the “voice in your head” asks the question: “Do I believe what they are saying, or – am I going to call their bluff and shout, I doubt it!”
After I shout “I doubt it”, the other player has to show his/her cards. If they were bluffing – they have to pick up the giant pile of cards and keep in their hand. If I guessed wrong and they did in fact place the correct cards on the pile – then I have to pick up the giant stack of cards. The player yelling, “I doubt it”,  is believing by seeing. Which is usually every player at some point in the game. The scripture we heard from John’s gospel is famously called the doubting Thomas Story. John calls him Thomas “the Twin”.
The poor guy gets a bad rap. Thomas has been labeled the doubter for so long there are songs and hymns written about his character. But, if you think about it: Thomas didn’t do anything different – really than what the other disciples did. They believed it was Jesus in the house  — after they saw his wounds.

 

And let’s keep in mind that these are the disciples, along with a few of our other favorite biblical characters, who want to be favored, have their fare share of questions, doubt, and speculation.

 

They remind me of when my children were young and shouted – while going out the door each day – “I call the front seat” or “I called it first”. Our dear disciples demand that Jesus tell them who “rates” the  coveted  seat at the right hand of God.

 

And here they all are….minus Thomas, all hanging out. Hiding out really – after Jesus has been crucified and buried. They are scared and afraid of the religious authorities, the riots and craziness in the streets, so they lock them selves in a house.
And then…Jesus appears.

 

Later, when Thomas joins them, they share the news with him, but he doesn’t believe them. “No way”, he says. “He is gone – he was crucified, he is dead”.  “Get over it, move on, you all are delusional. Notice, Thomas won’t just “go along – to get along”. He won’t accept the others’ word for it and in so doing he gets the famous title “Doubting Thomas.” On insisting that he gets the same (equal) treatment the disciples had, he becomes the personification of skepticism.

Perhaps, just perhaps he should be praised for his tenacity, his honesty, patience and his ultimate expression of devine faith. Given the emotional torment, anguish and suffering of the many days  lived before this passage’s story, can you blame Thomas for his questions?
Just a week ago, He saw Jesus humiliated, nailed to the cross, He watched him suffer and wrongfully die at the hands of a corrupt system. It was not an easy time to believe in light and hope. In this story from John’s gospel, it is clear that all Thomas is asking for was for a real encounter with Jesus. Isn’t that what the other disciples got?

 

After their hiding-out all week, locked behind closed doors, they suddenly declare they have seen Jesus and Thomas shouts, “I doubt it”. He will not take their word that Christ has been raised. No, “I must see the wounds of Christ myself. He adds that not only does he need to see what they have seen, but he must hold and touch the wounds of Christ.

All his senses: sight, sound, touch, and smell will be put to work IF – after persecution, torture, ridicule, and death, he is to believe that the light of the world, what he knows in Jesus Christ, has returned!

 

We have 4 gospels stories in our Bible. This story, our story was first an oral story – told over and over between people, passed down from generation to generation. It was, then written down in order that it would live on. The writer of the gospel of John has an agenda and an audience in mind as he tells the story of Jesus and his love.
There are at least three:

  1. It is an environment of fear and worry. In the midst of hiding in fear, not knowing if their lives will ever be whole again, the worried, anxious Disciples recognize see Jesus (after they see his wounds) and declare JESUS is in fact has been raised.

 

  1. Second John makes sure to “name” the one disciple, known as Thomas the twin.  Thomas, who was not hiding behind closed doors w/the disciples, but was “out and about” living-life, daring to walk in the streets after a week of death and despair.
    He too, sees & touches the wounds and declares Jesus raised.

 

  1. Thirdly, John ‘s gospel adds, not only have the disciples and Thomas acknowledge that Jesus has been raised There is more…There are also blessings  in store
    for those who will believe without seeing.[1]

It is Thomas who chooses not to live in fear and worry, locked behind closed doors. He was “out there” doing only what he knew to do: getting on about the business of living his life.
Back in John chapter 11 we read that it is Thomas who announces, that in order for Jesus to return to Jerusalem, is to face the threat of death, and it is Thomas who then
urges the other disciples to go with Jesus.
“While we don’t know where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared, we do know where he wasn’t –  He wasn’t locked in the upper room, hiding in fear….”.[i]

 

And, have you ever noticed that When Thomas calls “I doubt it”, when he is really honest & says, “I don’t believe you really saw Jesus raised”, it is Jesus who shows up and puts all the cards on the table and and says, “Look Thomas it is me, I am alive! Look, touch and
see for yourself”.

It is after seeing and touching that Thomas does see Jesus, he is so overwhelmed that he makes a divine confession. His words are used again at the end of John’s Gospel, after seeing and touching Jesus, he addresses Jesus as,    “My Lord…. and my God!”

It takes courage to question, to ask about faith, to wonder if God can bring life out of violence and death. How many of us wish we could walk in the footsteps of Thomas? But we are more often walking in the steps of the other disciples How many of us would like to have more courage to ask, to see, to touch to witness. Not so much because we doubt, although there are times we might,  but because we all yearn – like Thomas to be sure about Jesus. To see to touch And encounter the living God and KNOW! To be able to make our own divine confession My Lord…, My God.

 

Maybe a little more question-asking is just what we need to get a few more confessing believers. Either way the scripture tells us that Jesus makes way for both – those who have seen and believe and those who have not seen and believe.  And then Jesus sends them out to share what they have seen with others, to be fishers of humanity, to serve. Go out into the world! Jesus breathed on them and the power Holy Spirit then commissions, yes commissions, the future church as a whole. It is written right  there.

Jesus does not send an elite group of leaders. It is hard to digest the fact that Jesus leaves this authority in the hands of disciples who are not themselves free from sin. John’s gospel is well aware of this, having positioned the commissioning story in the midst of the disciples’ struggle to come to terms with their own resurrection faith. Jesus’ declares, that in his absence, the disciples, must step up, risk, put their whole selves in, get out from behind closed doors and be a part of the story!

 

In this wonderful story of Thomas and his anxious disciples friends – THERE IS GOOD NEWS. They are called, like us, to do much more than we are capable of.

You have heard the phrase, God doesn’t call the qualified, God qualifies the called. Often we are not sure if we have the words, the energy and a real-enough faith to make a difference. If we admit it, there are times that we doubt if Christ’s light still exists in a violent world.  We must not hide in fear and anxiety. We must not stand still. Take a cue from Thomas. In Christ, we will be granted great clarity, and in those moments we manifest the hope of the resurrection given to us, promised to us by God.

 

I give thanks to the gospel writer for making sure Thomas’s story has not been forgotten. I give thanks for Thomas’s hard, honest and awkward questions. For his refusal to take anyone else’s word that  “Jesus is alive and “on the loose”.
He shouts, “I need to see you Lord! I need to know that you are here.”

 

His story, his questions hold us all accountable to the expectation that Jesus’ promises are worth our trust.
AMEN

[1] Eugene Peterson’s The Message