Thomas gets a bad rap. And Thomas is a lot like you and I. And he's way more like the rest of the disciples than many a homily or sermon over the centuries has ever acknowledged.
Without the benefit of having read the complete story - because it hadn't even been written back then-right after Easter, the disciples were in confusion. They each had their own doubts.
Tremendous events had taken place that shook their normal life. They were unsettled. Afraid. They were afraid of the religious authorities. They were all Judeans so they weren't afraid of their fellow countrymen in general: they were afraid of those Judeans who were the religious authorities and who had conjured up the scheme to bring the demise of Jesus.
Maybe even they were afraid of Jesus or at least worried about what he would think of them. All but the one disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, abandoned him at the cross. One had denied Jesus not once but three times. And of course, one had actually betrayed Jesus to the authorities.
Those disciples may actually have been afraid of what Jesus would say to them were they to meet him again. And, Jesus had promised that they would see him again. No doubt they were confused in their disarray.
Did they themselves so easily believe Mary when she told them about the empty tomb? Or did they - like Thomas - need more proof? They needed the proof too.
Thomas gets a bad rap as being somehow so different than his fellow disciples and by some kind of wishful presumption on our part, as being so much different than you and I.
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Jesus, as he always demonstrates to us as his model, responds with compassion. He accepts the disciples for who they are and, more important, for who they are becoming. He does not chastise Thomas either but shows him the facts. The only admonition which would apply to each of them was to acknowledge that it is more difficult to believe without having seen firsthand.
"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
That means blessed are you and I because we believe but have not seen firsthand. We have the story recounted to us. And what is written in the book is so that you and I may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name. Life now through a new perspective and life forever in the age to come. That is why it has been written. It has to do with believing and with bringing others into belief.
When it says in this Gospel about sin being forgiven or sin being retained, in this instance, it is not so much in a specific moral sense or power over others but rather in the sense of enabling belief. For John, sin is a state of unbelief. Forgiving that "sin" is bringing people into belief and failing in that mission means having people remain in a state of unbelief.
The disciples are sent out from this point to spread the word for believing. And I'd say that in our day, this does not mean solely any one interpretation of God's revelation to the world. For Christians, God's revelation is through Jesus Christ. For others the revelation of God may be by other paths. The outcome still is a state of belief and a yearning for God. It is about believing. For us and for other disciples, it is about enabling belief in Jesus as Messiah and as the Risen Lord.
I've said a number of times in the past that belief is not the same as actual knowledge, knowledge in a scientific kind of sense that you can verify mathematically. Inherent in belief is doubt. In fact doubt is likely the catalyst or springboard into belief.
"Blessed are they who believe and yet have not seen."
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There are times in any journey in life that doubt looms large. You and I question what is going on in the world.
Closer to our direct circle of life, we have questions and doubts that arise in our own experience. Experiences of illness, experiences of struggles in relationships, experiences of losing the touch and presence of loved ones. There is almost a limitless array of what can feed a sense of doubt.
As I have often also said, in the Creeds, we do not say "I know"; we say "I believe" or "We believe".
Doubt is the key ingredient of faith and of believing. Doubt leads to seeking responses to questions. Doubt enables the steps toward growing faith.
So when doubt arises or when doubt darkens the soul, remember to float in that struggle knowing that it will not overcome you. It leads to new understanding and to new meaning. Again, an experience of Resurrection.
Blessed are they who believe yet have not seen.
Dear Lord Jesus, when you spoke with Thomas, you gently taught him about faith. Help us to learn from Thomas and from his experience of faith. Amen.
The Reverend W Glenn Empey