In John’s Gospel, the resurrected Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples. Except for Thomas. Somehow he was missing. Often people speak of “doubting Thomas”, but I’m not sure that’s quite fair to Thomas.
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 20:24-25
What do you think Thomas means when he says this? The gospel writers seldom tell us anything about a speaker’s tone or intent. No “he remarked”, “they announced”, “she shouted”, or “he whispered”. But those words are important clues for readers that help us understand what the speaker is saying. We make assumptions when we read, often without thinking. It is helpful to ask ourselves about the speaker’s tone and intent.
How do you think Thomas said these words? Often we assume he is refusing to believe, obstinate, defiant even. What is he was laughing or joking? What if he whispered these words sadly? Does that change the story?
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.” 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 hem, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
How do you think Jesus speaks to Thomas? Demandingly? Quietly? Invitingly?
What about Thomas reply? Is this a solid profession of faith?
Does Thomas shout? Does he whisper? Is Thomas relieved?
As always in the resurrection stories, Jesus does not condemn or shame anyone. Jesus continues to invite people into belief. As I read this story, I think Thomas’ statement of needing to see for himself is quite understandable. This event happens on what we call Easter Sunday. The past three days were an emotional rollercoaster. The unthinkable had happened. Jesus was dead. Their entire future was.. was what? Changed, certainly. But what do they do now? Should they just go home? How much physical danger were they in? Are they supposed to continue Jesus’ work? But how can they without him?
And then Thomas hears the report that Jesus is not dead. Another unthinkable event. Did Thomas think his friends were seeing things? Were they deluded by hope and fear?
I can imagine Thomas slowly shaking his head and sadly thinking, “Dead people don’t actually come back to life. This is not something I can accept on the say so of some frightened and upset people.”
I wonder what the intervening week was like. Did the other disciples try to convince Thomas? What were they doing?
But then, at last, Jesus shows up. I imagine Jesus spoke kindly to Thomas. “Come here, Thomas. Look, it’s really me.” Thomas responds with relief, I think, and joy, “My Lord and My God!”
The other practice that is always helpful when reading the Bible, particularly familiar stories is to ask ourselves why we are being told this particular story, in this particular way. The last word of the story belongs to Jesus who says “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Who does the author of John think Jesus is talking to here? Thomas, yes. But also John’s audience. This gospel was written toward the end of the first century. Perhaps 50 years or more since Jesus’ resurrection. There are fewer and fewer eyewitnesses.
This story is a reassurance and comfort to John’s community. In John’s gospel, Jesus seems to be reassuring the eyewitnesses that there will be another generation of followers. And to that next (and all subsequent) generations, a word of affirmation and acceptance is given. They and we, are not lesser disciples. They, and we, are blessed. For those whose faith wavers, as happens to many of us from time to time, there is no condemnation. Only invitation and reassurance. Jesus is present for those who doubt. Jesus comes to those who doubt. He doesn’t demand belief. He doesn’t force us to believe. He doesn’t magically give us belief. But he does come. It may take a week or two or even longer. But he does come. And he speaks our name, just as he spoke to Mary and to Thomas. He speaks our name and waits for us to recognize his voice- to recognize him- and then to join Thomas in belief.