One moment of time out of a whole lifetime and Thomas is branded for life: Doubting Thomas. Ouch. And the funny thing is that the word “doubt” never appears anywhere in this Gospel passage. There are six perfectly good words in Greek to express doubt. None of them are used. The word that is used is “not trusting.”
You know, Thomas wasn’t the only disciple in the Christian gospels to express disbelief, doubt or not trust the reports of resurrection. Peter and John both had to see the empty tomb for themselves rather than rely on the word of the distraught women. John, the beloved disciples, did not believe until he put his entire body into the empty tomb. These disciples did not trust another’s report of the Resurrection; their actions portrayed a demand for proof before they believed. Whatever they thought or believed, it wasn’t enough to get them to take a step out of the Upper Room into the world. They huddled there in fear.
Then Jesus appears to his disciples, everybody except one. Thomas is absent. When he finally does show up, his fellow disciples report the good news that they have seen their Resurrected Lord. In the midst of all of their “Hallelujahs,” Thomas has a pretty stark reservations: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Thomas doesn’t seem to trust their reports. I wonder why; perhaps, because their belief makes little difference in their lives. They are still stuck in the Upper Room. On one has taken a step out into the world.
It takes a full week for Jesus to reappear to the disciples – the one week needed to brand Thomas for life as the doubter, the skeptic, the disbeliever, the cynic. It hardly seems fair – and it doesn’t match the Thomas the Scripture describes. When Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus has died and plans to return to Bethany, everyone knows this means the death of them all. Thomas is the only disciple with the courage to step out with Jesus, no matter the cost. Not Peter the Rock. Not John the Beloved. Not the Sons of Thunder. Not the Zealot. While the other disciples hem and haw about not going, Thomas alone speaks up. Thomas alone stands rock solid with Jesus. “Let us also go to die with him.” These are not the words of a doubter. These are the words of a follower of Christ – someone who trusts in the person of Jesus – who trusts that there is something beyond Jesus’ inevitable death.
And so he waits in the Upper Room in the darkness of his own thoughts, his not trusting his friends’ reports, in the midst of all these people upon whom the Spirit has breathed, among their “Hallelujahs” and “He is Risen.” – but who are still not stepping out. He waits, trusting that Jesus’ promises are true, even as he does not trust much else. He waits in frustration. But he sticks around.
Jesus does appear to Thomas, and in a more literal translation, says to the disciple, “Don’t be untrusting, but trust.” Thomas then speaks out loud the word he has waited to speak: “My Lord and my God.” “The One I have followed for three years, the One who I followed to Bethany, to Jerusalem, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the very promise I made, “Let us also go to die with him.” Your death was inevitable, but I followed and waited because there is something more inevitable than death. There is Resurrection to life eternal.”
Thomas was incredibly brave and faithful to wait, but there is one lesson he still needed to learn. His trust in Jesus was amazing and rock solid. His trust in his community was shaky at best. I would suggest this as the context for Jesus’ final words to Thomas: “Have you come to [trust] because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have [trusted].” Thomas, you are now the community who will take the story to the ends of the world, to people who will trust the story, not because they see me, but because they see you.
With those words, Thomas understands – the Spirit breathes upon him to see the Jesus alive in the community; the community that will go to the ends of the world.
Thomas no longer needs to stick around.
His life will take him to India to tell the story, the story in which he prays that people will trust the story and the storyteller. He tells the story that will become the center of the community that will trust and hand the story on, becoming the storyteller. Blessed are those who have not seen and have [trusted].
Indeed, blessed is every person in the time since Thomas who has trusted the reports of others who, in their own way, have seen the Resurrection, who have had the Spirit breath upon them, who rejoice in Hallelujahs, and who handed on the story of Jesus and the Resurrection.
And what does one do when it seems everyone but you have seen the resurrection? You stick around in the community of believers. Doubt if you need to, question all you want, wait with your own thoughts, but be attentive to the community that surrounds you. Stick around.
Thomas is the story of learning to trust. He had the testimony of the community and did not trust. He was fortunate to see the risen Christ. But Jesus is clear, the truly blessed ones are the ones that are willing to trust. Trust the living Christ and his living community – and take the first step.
That is the life of faith – a life in the witness of the community, the breath of the Spirit, and trust in the story. All it requires is for you to wait, trust and then take the first step.