If we’re truly going to be honest, Easter raises more questions than it answers. In fact, I think true faith is all about the questions. A vital faith is developed only through inquiry and examination. How else are we to deepen our understanding and learn to apply our faith in the crucible of real life?
Over the years, I’ve noticed my questions about this passage of Scripture that gets used every Sunday following Easter have changed as well. I have probably preached more on this passage of Scripture than any other. As No. 2 in the clergy lineup for many of those years, the Sunday after Easter was my Sunday to preach since it was considered a “low” Sunday. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on this passage and plenty of questions over the years. Maybe you have too!
Take a look at the passage. What questions come to mind?
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 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 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.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. ~ John 20:19-31
Here are some of my questions I’ve pondered over the years:
- Why is it so hard for Thomas to believe? He’d seen a lot of stuff with Jesus over the course of roughly three years, much of it pretty fantastical.
- Why didn’t he trust what his friends were reporting to him? And why wasn’t he with the others in the first place?
- Why was Jesus so harsh to Thomas? What was he really expecting from Thomas?
- What’s the writer – whose not named but we assume is John – really trying to tell his audience?
I’ve found that asking questions leads me to asking more questions which leads me to new insights and new insights offer a richer faith experience. Here’s what I mean. Years ago, the obvious question was Why is it so hard for Thomas to believe? He’d been on the road for three years with these friends! They had shared a lot of stuff over those years and yet, he didn’t automatically believe what they were telling him. Over the years, Thomas’ doubt and disbelief started making more sense to me. He didn’t hear about Jesus’ crucifixion from his friends; he actually witnessed it with them. He saw first-hand exactly what happened and Jesus was d-e-a-d. Given that stark reality, I can fully understand why he would question them. Jesus being alive AND appearing to them in a locked room is a bit much to absorb, and does seem a bit too unbelievable to be true.
Another time, I was sharing about this passage with a group of inmates at San Quentin State Prison and when I read 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.” one of the guys said, “Ooh, that’s harsh! Jesus shouldn’t be treating his homies that way.” It does seem harsh. You’d think Jesus would realize Thomas is only asking about what the others had already seen. So why the rebuke? Over time, I have come to think that Jesus’ response wasn’t a rebuke at all. In fact, I don’t think Jesus’ response was for those in that room with Thomas. I think John shares these comments of Jesus because he is talking to us and all those who, like Thomas, wouldn’t have the benefit of seeing the resurrected Christ. Sure, there is the testimony of others, but that’s not the same as being an actual eyewitness.
In fact, John says just that at the end of his dynamic account: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. He’s telling this story so that first-century and twenty-first century people can find themselves in God’s great story of love.
John selects each encounter with Jesus to show the many ways people come to faith. There is the revered teacher who comes at night with questions and leaves more confused. There’s the doubly despised person Jesus meets at the well – an alien AND a woman – who leaves as an evangelist. There is story after story of how someone encountered Jesus, giving us many examples of the breadth and depth of God’s love and options for choosing a different path and a different life. Thomas represents that even the most hardened realist and skeptic can come to faith. We don’t know if Thomas really put his fingers in the wounds, but we do know his response when Jesus invited: “My Lord and my God!”
My question today is: What would prompt a similar confession of faith today? Do we want to see Jesus like Thomas? Are we looking for a welcoming and accepting community that allows us to be who we are? Do we want to see God’s grace and mercy enacted in service and concern for those who are marginalized and voiceless? Do we seek someone who will hold on to us when we’re struggling with life or faith? Or do we just need to hear John’s encouragement that faith is hard to believe and the invitation is always there?
Ask away. God is listening.