Tuesday, April 20, 2010

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling Charlotte campus

At Easter time, I often find myself reflecting on one particular character in the Easter story. This year, I found myself thinking about Thomas. The Scripture refers to him as Thomas the twin, but he is better known today as doubting Thomas. This is no doubt because of the story found in John chapter 20. Thomas appears only a few times in the Gospel stories, mostly during the listing of the names of the twelve. In John 11, when Jesus tells the disciples that he is returning to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead, Thomas response first, saying "let us go also, so that we may die with him." He also appears however in John 14 where his question to Jesus about not knowing where he is going, Jesus responds with that oft-quoted verse "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father but through me." You've got to love the guy! On the one hand, his faith seems to be reflected in his willingness to follow Jesus even though he thinks it will result in death. On the other hand, he does not really understand who Jesus is or what he is doing. Which brings me to John chapter 20, were Jesus helps him to finally be clear on the subject of who he is.
After the disciples had been shocked by the report of Mary Magdalene that she had encountered the risen Christ, he had appeared to them through the locked doors of the upper room. He calmed their fears and showed them that he was truly risen from the dead. Thomas, however, was not with them at that time. When he showed up, they told him about seeing Jesus risen from the dead, and he expressed his doubt: “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Some commentators suggest that the presentation of injuries were sometimes presented as evidence in court. This would be in keeping with some of the other testimony-like features of the resurrection story. Nevertheless, it is, no doubt, because of this response that we call him doubting Thomas. But is it so different from the rest of the disciples who did not believe Mary Magdalene?
I can appreciate Thomas. I can appreciate his need for evidence. I've spent most of my career as a biomedical scientist, and I tend to look for evidence to support or refute my theories. I have to see it to believe it also. When I was a young Christian, I was ashamed of this. If I really had faith I wouldn't need "evidences." I would be able to hear God's Word and that would be sufficient. I feared judgment for my unbelief. And then I found Thomas.
What draws me to this story in John 20 is Jesus’ response to Thomas. About a week after the first appearance, Jesus shows up again behind closed and locked doors, but this time Thomas is present. The first thing reported of Jesus is that he speaks to Thomas: “He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’” Thomas needed evidence, and Jesus offered the evidence he needed. As a young Christian, this was not the response that I had expected to my struggle and unbelief. I expected condemnation. But Jesus doesn't condemn Thomas. Jesus offers Thomas what he needs to believe. And Thomas rises to the occasion remarkably well: ‘Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”’ (vs. 28). The Gospel of John highlights the response of people to Jesus’ ministry and claims about himself, contrasting belief and unbelief. What endears this story to me is that it tells me that no matter how fragile my faith is and no matter how challenged it is by my inclination to require evidence, Jesus will always meet me there and give me what I need to have the faith he requires. In fact, right there with Thomas I see myself receiving a promise directly from Jesus: “Jesus said to him,Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed’” (vs. 29). Thank you, Jesus.

No comments:

Post a Comment