Thomas gets a bad rap. But it’s important to remember that his response to the resurrection exists in the context of jesus' other followers’ responses in John. First we have Mary at the tomb, who’s upset that Jesus’ body is missing, and then doesn’t recognize him. Then the disciples. He comes to them in this room where they’ve locked themselves in, and shows them his hands and his sides. And then, finally, Thomas.
And it turns out he’s not so much "Doubting Thomas" as he is "Conditional Thomas,” as one commentator wrote. Thomas is setting terms for his belief. “IF this happens, THEN I’ll believe.” IF I see the holes of the nails. IF I touch his wounds. Then. Then I’ll be able to believe.
How many of us have made deals with God before?
I have a rather clear and unfortunate memory of making a deal with God about a boy I had a crush on in the sixth grade. I thought that if God would just send me a sign that he liked me or didn’t, I could figure out what to do next. That I could feel better about the situation, if only I just knew. In retrospect, I think that my problem was less about knowing how the boy felt about me, and more about knowing how I felt about myself.
And that’s the way it is a lot of the time.
As adults, we might not even acknowledge the deals we’re making with God.
But still we make them, stealthily, in the corners of our hearts.
God, if I’m successful in life, you’ll love me just a little bit more, won’t you?
God, if I fail at this, it will prove what I’ve suspected all along -- that I’m actually not worth much at all.
The deals have everything to do with assurance.
We want to be assured that we’re loved. That we’re worth something.
It’s not easy just to believe it.
So we set up conditions.
Ways to quantify and control.
Ways to know.
There’s something about Thomas in this story that is so terribly familiar. He reminds me of the most raw, little kid part of ourselves. Like a child at a birthday party who’s been left out of the fun. Thomas is the kid who’s Mom won’t let him have sugar when everyone else if having cake.
Because Thomas has missed Jesus.
All of his buddies were together in one place, locked up in a room in fear.
And where was Thomas?
We’re not quite sure.
Perhaps off sulking somewhere.
Needing to be by himself.
Needing to be alone to lick his own wounds after the death of his teacher.
Wherever he was, he missed everything.
When he comes back everybody’s saying,
“We’ve seen Jesus, and he’s come back from the dead!”
And he’s totally missed out.
He can’t believe what they’re saying, and he’s a little pissed that they’re saying it at all.
I picture him crossing his arms across his chest and shaking his head and saying,
No. Not until I see him.
Not until I touch his wounds.
It’s so universal, that feeling of being left out.
Of missing some key piece
that everyone else seems to have been let in on.
It’s this feeling I think we all carry inside:
the fear that there is a message of hope for everyone
except for us.
And so we cross our arms and shake our heads and pretend we don’t care.
In the corners of our hearts
we tell ourselves, and the God we’re busy ignoring
that it does’t matter anyway.
But then this strange thing happens.
Which is that Jesus comes to us.
The funny thing about this story is that,
in the end, Thomas seems to get everything he asks for,
and, at the same time,
he gets something he never could have asked for.
Because we all know that when we make an condition,
when we set and “if/then,”
what we’re really doing
is making a dare.
Unless, Thomas says.
Unless I see the mark of the nail.
Unless I put my hand in his wounds.
I dare you, God.
I dare you to make me believe.
That’s what Thomas is really saying.
I dare you to prove to me.
Prove that you love me.
Prove that I’m worth something after all.
We all have a little bit of Thomas in us.
He shows up in some of our worst moments,
when we’re determined to believe
in not believing.
But God takes the dare.
Comes and finds us in the room we’ve locked ourselves away in,
comes just for us.
And gives us exactly what we hoped she wouldn’t.
Belief. Sometimes against our will.
“Believing” in the Gospel of John
is always a verb, not a noun.
It is not so much an object you can grasp
as a action you carry out.
Belief is a place where we go,
a land that we live in.
A state of abiding in Jesus:
Abide in me, and I shall abide in you,
as this gospel says.
The contract that Thomas makes with God?
The deal that he sets up?
All the conditions are met.
But he gets something he never bargained for.
God pulls him, head first into belief.
Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds and breathes,
My Lord and My God.
He's plunged into faith, overwhelmed by it.
God calls Thomas into a new land to live in.
A place where he rests in the knowledge that he is loved.
and the deals
and the dares
the crossed arm and the shaking head?
All of that went down into the grave with Jesus.
What came up from the grave
Acceptance of the love and grace
that has been there all along,
Only we couldn’t see it.
My Lord, and my God, Thomas breathes,
because he believes.
He’s toppled head first into the land of the living.