We all know people who see the glass half-empty and have a “dark cloud” hovering over them and can think of all the reasons why something CAN‘T be done. We say, “Isn’t this a beautiful day?! And they answer, “It’s going to rain tomorrow.“ I knew someone that would say, “You better not laugh too much because tomorrow you’ll be crying.“ Once, I commented to a friend that my hanging plant was doing well and maybe it would bloom all summer. She replied, “These flowers don’t usually work that way.“ I thought to myself, “Thanks for bursting my bubble.“ Then, I said to her, “Maybe this plant will surprise us.” And it did produce flowers all summer. To be truthful, I can be a “half-empty” kind of person, if I’m not careful.
Jesus’ disciple Thomas sounds like a pessimistic type person. I can hear him talking in an Eeore-monotone-draggy voice. Eeore is the donkey in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons, who always sees disaster lurking around the corner and has a very low opinion of himself. We first hear Thomas in John 11:16, when Jesus wants to go to Jerusalem because His friend Lazarus has died. Jesus is already in trouble with the religious leaders and a mob had already tried to stone Him twice (See John 8:59 and 10:31-33). Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16b). Another time, when Jesus says to all his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:1-4). Jesus said this after He told His disciples that He was going to be glorified by His Father and would not be with them for much longer (See John 12-13). After all this, “Thomas said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’” (John 14:5).
Next, we learn that Thomas isn’t with the rest of the disciples when Jesus appears to them after His Resurrection. When Thomas finally joins the disciples Jesus has already left, but they tell him that they have seen the Lord (See John 20:24-25a). Thomas refuses to believe them and says, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger in His side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25b). Where was Thomas? Why did he doubt that Jesus rose from the dead, just as He said He would? Before we judge Thomas, let’s read what Homer A. Kent Jr. writes in his book, LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS: Studies in the Gospel of John, (p. 222): “The reason for [Thomas’] absence the previous week is not explained by John…It should be noted that Jesus did not rebuke him for his absence. Perhaps Thomas preferred to be alone with his grief.” Also, Merrill C. Tenney writes in his book, JOHN: The Gospel of Belief, (p.284): “[Thomas] was naturally of a pessimistic temperament as his previous utterances showed (11:16, 14:5), and his doubt seems to have been the product of his pessimism rather than a lack of confidence in Jesus Himself. After all, he knew that Jesus had died, and he could say, ‘The worst has happened just as I said it would.’” I also think Thomas was on his guard against being terribly disappointed and having his heart crushed again.
Jesus met Thomas on his terms. John records, “A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to [Jesus], ‘My Lord and My God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:26-29).
Jesus is always willing to meet each one of us where we are and speak words of comfort and grace and to turn our doubts into faith and worship, as He did for Thomas. For those of us who have not seen Jesus and yet believe in Him, we have also been met by Jesus and have been touched by His pierced hands. Jesus calls us “blessed” and that we are! I do not believe Thomas had to put his fingers into Jesus’ hands or his hand into Jesus‘ side. Kent Jr. writes, “It is not stated whether or not [Thomas] still felt it necessary to handle the body of Jesus, although the subsequent words of Jesus may imply that ‘seeing’ was enough to satisfy him (20:29). But he did make to Jesus the greatest confession of any in the room: ‘My Lord and My God!’ The reality of the resurrection had satisfied the unresolved questions of a demanding Thomas” (p. 223).
Tenney writes, “The fact that [Jesus] knew what Thomas had said when He was not present was convincing proof of His supernatural knowledge, and His willingness to accept Thomas on his own terms was a marvel of condescension and compassion…All his unbelief vanished as he worshipped. For a Jew to salute another man, however he might revere him, as ‘Lord and God’ (28) could only mean that he had come to the point of worshipping Him as deity. The resurrection made the difference between the skepticism of despair and the worship which brings certainty. Thus belief in a risen Christ made a mourner into a missionary, a penitent into a preacher, the bereaved friend into an apostle of love, a timid and shrinking coterie of disciples into the fearless heralds of a new movement, and a doubter into a confessor. With the confession of Thomas, JOHN reached the high peak of belief: faith can rise no higher than when it avows Jesus of Nazareth to be its Lord and God” (p. 284).
As Jesus said it to Thomas, He is saying it to us: “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27b).
How do we remember Thomas? Sadly, most of us remember the bad things people do. A person can lead an extempore life, but make one horrible mistake and, from that point on, be remembered for that one mistake. I see it in the sports world and, sadly, I see it in myself when I am left to my own human devices. Most of us remember Thomas as that “doubting Thomas“. Jesus knows the same Thomas as the Thomas who made the Great Confession: “My Lord and My God!” I believe this is true because of what Jesus said about the “sinful” woman who poured costly perfume on Jesus head and washed His feet with her tears. Matthew 26:10-13 reads, “Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing for Me…When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’” [See also Luke 7:36-50]
Do you see Thomas as “Doubting Thomas” or the disciple who confessed, “My Lord and my God”? Do you see the woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus as a “wasteful sinner” or a “believer who loved Jesus extravagantly”? Do you see me as a “disabled woman” or as a “woman named Lydia who loves Jesus and enjoys watching sports, eating gourmet food with just the right wine complement the meal, and writing about her ‘look on life’ and how God works in subtle and miraculous ways”? How do you view your neighbors, co-workers, relatives, people you meet everyday? Will the real pessimist please lighten up?! And that includes ME!
(My nephew and I on Annual
Before-Easter ROAD TRIP)