Text: John 20: 24-29
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), 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!’ 27 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.’
If one plays a game of ‘Word Association’, every name of a person we know evokes an adjective associated with that person. This inevitably is the label we give to that particular person. For example Musician Jakes, Suave Jennifer, Lousy Neena, Fatso David. I had a practice of saving the adjectives associated with people to my mobile, rather than their actual names. One of my friends was scandalized when he found out that his name was stored as ‘Prodigal’. Let me not get into explaining how much I struggled to give him a reasonable explanation. Similarly, in common usage, the name of disciple ‘Thomas’ is usually prefixed with ‘Doubting’. The reason for the label that has just stuck to Thomas is thanks to the text we have just read. Every label needs a reality check and so does the label of ‘Doubting Thomas’. When we read John 20: 1-8, we see that Peter and the other disciples see the Empty Tomb, but are confused and still do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, too saw Jesus in person, to believe. John 20: 19-23 shows that the disciples were sitting locked in a room fearing the Jews. The Jews had killed their leader and now their next aim would be his disciples, was the reason for their fear. Jesus appears to the disciples to comfort them. Only then do they believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas clearly was deprived of the comfort that others had. Like others, he too had witnessed the brutal death of Jesus. The basic foundation of his life was swept off and all the certitude of faith was in limbo. He was a wounded man. I think, he had a right to doubt. When other disciples said that Jesus appeared to them, he expressed the need to touch the wounds of Jesus to ascertain the veracity of the claims of the disciples. This is what we think is scandalous. This is why the black mark of ‘Doubt’ is on the forehead of Thomas. But is Doubt and Faith as antithetical as it seems? I still remember the time when I had delivered a sermon on Easter about the Resurrection of Jesus. I had a call that evening from a friend who I will leave unnamed. He explained to me the battle of divorce that he is having with his wife who is mentally ill. He can’t meet his daughter, he has lost everything he held close. And most of all he knows he can’t blame his wife as she is suffering from mental illness. He told me something that totally shook me. “I have been a very spiritual person, my parents are the most devout people that one could meet. It is not my wife’s fault. But why did such things happen to me. What meaning is there to life? If Christ has Risen, why do I have so much of pain and struggle? Sometimes I feel Jesus has been unfair to me. But I pray and I keep struggling with God.” There are many events in our lives that lead us to the doorsteps of doubt. Maybe, not all are as extreme as I have quoted. But is a doubt wrong? Is struggling with your faith a sin? Russian Novelist Dostoevsky says “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Christ. My hosanna is ‘born in the furnace of Doubt.’ ” Selwyn Hughes in Everyday With Jesus says “Being honest about your doubts is a healthy sign of a living faith”. I agree. I would rather be honest about my doubts than fake certainty and certitude.
What is interesting in the text read above is that Jesus considers the doubt of Thomas ‘important’ and therefore appears to him not in private, but in front of those he expressed his doubt. He did not come down with fire of retribution and sword of anger for the lack of faith. The first words he said to Thomas were “Peace be with you.” Jesus then asked him to put his fingers in His hands, to touch His wounds. What is most significant about the body of Jesus Christ after resurrection? It is not a flawless Fair and Lovely body. It still has wounds of crucifixion. The resurrected body does not make us forget the cross. The wounds on Jesus’ body still points to the Cross. “There is no resurrection without the Cross.” The most fascinating aspect of this narrative is that“Jesus through His wounds heals the wounds of Thomas.” Jesus uses his brokenness to give Thomas the comfort and commission of Resurrection. In the Holy Communion, the Priest breaks the bread that symbolizes the broken body of Jesus. I always wondered, why even after resurrection the broken body of Jesus was remembered. The narrative of Thomas is an answer. The Resurrected body is a wounded and broken body that has space for our wounds and doubts. According to the Mar Thoma liturgy, before administering the Bread the priest says “The Holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins, is given to you for the health of the body and soul.” When one goes to the Lord’s table weary and burdened with doubts and confusions, the broken bread is a reminder of the broken body of Christ that has resurrected and triumphed over all the odds in life. But, because of the routine hearing of these verses and ritual practice of receiving bread and wine, the profound meaning and application of Communion is lost. So may I urge you to meaningfully participate at the Lord’s Table understanding that God can accommodate you, in spite of your failings, struggles, doubts and confusions.
After Thomas was healed, he declared Christ as “My Lord and My God.” This is one of the biggest faith affirmations. The story of Thomas sums up our journey that starts with doubts, borders on denials but ends up with declaration of faith. From Emptiness of Doubt may God lead you to the Healing of your body and soul so as to be Witnesses for Him in declaration of faith through words and action.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church,