I was a precocious child. Which means I was a bit of a smart-ass (more than a bit, actually). I was a kid who wasn’t comfortable with “because” as an answer. I had to have proof. At the least, I had to have a discussion about why anything was the way it was.
(I think lots of kids are anxious to learn everything about the world around them — it’s ALL new. But “why?” “why?” “why?” becomes irritating, apparently…)
This grown up precocious child has a soft spot for Doubting Thomas.
Christians associate Thomas with the Easter story, and in my memory, the association isn’t fond. When we hear stories of the disciples’ encounters with the resurrected Jesus, they include the “cautionary tale” of Thomas.
The Disciple who wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen and appeared to the rest of the Disciples wanted to see the Jesus’s scars for himself:
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.
If we’ve ever lost someone or something so close to us, someone or something that we’ve changed our lives for, we would be hard-pressed to believe hearsay. I’d want to see for myself.
And who knows why Thomas wasn’t in that upper room with the rest of the Disciples when Jesus appeared to them? The text is silent. Maybe he was trying to move on with his life — picking up pieces where he could (maybe he was getting food for the rest of the Disciples, trying to get back to “normal”) after everything came to such a sudden halt.
Then [Jesus] 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’s doubt is not denied, but acknowledged. Jesus himself goes to Thomas and invites him to find the proof he needs. Not scorn, but understanding concern.
When Jesus then says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29), I’m not convinced that this is a comment aimed toward Thomas. All the disciples saw Jesus’s wounds before they allowed themselves to believe. So if it’s a slap to Thomas, it’s a slap to them all.
All the Disciples had now seen Jesus in the flesh and believed that Jesus had indeed returned from a painful and humiliating death.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” are not words to the Disciples, but words from the gospel writer consoling and urging his own community.
The Gospel of John was written around 90 CE, so it’s fairly likely none in his community had seen Jesus’s crucifixion 60 years earlier. No one listening to the words of John 20:29 would have had the same opportunity to have their doubts physically acknowledged as Thomas and the rest of the Disciples had.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” speaks to us, too: those who were not present in that upper room, who were not blessed with Jesus’s physical reassurance.
Thomas’s doubt is not a fault, but a saving grace.
His doubt brought him back to the upper room. His doubt, though interpreted today as un-believing, was his vulnerable truth.
Thomas’s doubts did not drive a wedge between himself and the rest of the Disciples. He was back in the upper room with them when Jesus appeared a second time. Perhaps the Disciples didn’t shun Thomas because they recalled their own doubts, too, and cared more for Thomas as a member of their community than as an “unbeliever” to be cast away.
It was in this community that Jesus appeared again, where Jesus came to Thomas at the place of his deep pain and said, “I’m here, see?”
To a precocious child who was often told “because” to her endless questions, seeing Thomas’s doubts gently and compassionately acknowledged is a blessed relief.
Speaking your doubts requires a vulnerability and yes, a faith. A faith that is large enough to hold your pain, a faith that whatever your doubts may be, the truth will be large and expansive enough not to crumble in the face of those doubts.
Speaking doubt requires a faith that is able to come to you and gently say, “I’m here, see?”
Many thanks to my friend Kitty, whose own vulnerability to discuss her doubts about the “Doubting Thomas” tradition gave me inspiration to write this reflection.