Today’s text is from John 20:24-31.
We’re up against a familiar text today. But let’s take a couple steps back and try and shed some new light on our friend Thomas.
We’re still working through the Gospel of John – and in John, like the three other Gospels, each writer has their own purpose for writing, who their audiences are, and they each have their own theological understandings of words that might seem concrete and defined in our minds – like faith, light and darkness, doubt, belief, and sin.
For John, each of these words have very specific meanings that add to the narrative the writer is attempting to convey. So, when we get to our text today – a text that most of us are probably familiar with calling “Doubting Thomas”, we find that perhaps doubt and belief mean something different for us than it does for the Gospel writer.
Let’s first look at where we are in this Gospel. The beginning of our text today is only six verses removed from Mary at the tomb on Easter morning – but we’re also told that it’s now been one week since that first Easter morning happened. In other words, this whole Easter thing – this whole Jesus is not dead, but alive concept is still fresh and new and wholly difficult to understand and accept for the first disciples.
So, it’s no surprise that Thomas comes along in our reading for today – Thomas, who wasn’t present the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples in our reading last week – that Thomas comes along and seeks reassurance that Jesus is not dead, but alive. Thomas needs to see for himself that Jesus is actually alive.
This is important. It’s a small detail, but one that the Gospel writer doesn’t want us to miss. If we rewind and remember what has transpired over the past two weeks we’ll see a similar theme that doesn’t make Thomas’ request seem so unique.
On Easter morning – at the beginning of this 20th chapter – we heard that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. And upon seeing that Jesus’ body wasn’t there, she pleaded with who she thought was a gardener to tell her where Jesus’ body was so she could bring it back. So, Mary’s first thought on seeing that the tomb is empty – that Jesus’ body isn’t there – isn’t that he has risen from the dead, but that someone has taken his lifeless body away.
Even upon seeing Jesus she still doesn’t recognize him or believe that he’s risen from the dead. Only when Jesus enters into relationship with her by calling her by name does she finally make her profession of faith by calling Jesus, “teacher”. For Mary, seeing was believing. Relationship could only happen with an actual individual present.
And then last week the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus for the very first time as they hid behind lock and key. But before we’re told that they are overjoyed at actually seeing Jesus, we’re first told that Jesus shows them his hands and his side.
And then, only after they’ve seen that this isn’t just a ghost standing in front of them, that this person’s hands and side have been pierced, are we told that they are overjoyed for seeing Jesus. For the disciples, seeing was believing. Relationship could only happen with an actual individual present.
And so, we then come to Thomas in our reading for today. Thomas, the only person left in the inner circle who has yet to actually see Jesus. Thomas, a person who needs what Mary and the other disciples have already received in order to believe: Relationship.
To believe in the Gospel of John is to be in relationship with Jesus; it is to witness the very presence of Jesus Christ in the people and world around us. Believing in the resurrected Jesus, according to the writer of John, isn’t about professing certain attributes about who Jesus is; it’s not about believing in some thing, but instead some one.
Believing, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is alive and not dead, is about entering into the same abundant and life-giving relationships with friends and enemies alike in the same manner that Jesus first entered into relationship with us.
Believing is truly about proclaiming that we have seen our risen Lord and Savior. Every day we have the opportunity to proclaim this good news. Every day we have the chance to move out into the world around us and truly see Jesus Christ in our neighbors.
Every day, every hour, every second we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue living out the daily reality of the resurrection by seeing Jesus in all of God’s children and entering into relationships that proclaim the abundance of new life, forgiveness, and love that we first received from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ – a Savior and friend we see each and every day in every corner of creation and in every person we meet.