Courageous Thomas

Pastor Leah Rosso

Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31

We all have one— the friend who asks all the questions we were wanting to know but would never ask. The person at work who speaks up and changes the entire conversation, strengthening a decision or asking just the right question to show that more work needs to be done. The person who always says what others may be thinking but would never say. Maybe you are that person. The one who sometimes gets laughed at or brings relief by pointing out the thing that others are not wanting to discuss.

Thomas. Just the fact that he gets a bad wrap for not going along with his friends says more about you and me than it does about him. We tend to be uncomfortable with people who ask questions. We tend to be defensive around those who doubt. We can handle people like Peter who are a bit impulsive and may betray Jesus but always come back around, but the Thomas’ of the world are more threatening because their questions challenge who we are. And yet Thomas gets a star role in this resurrection story. He is not shut up. He is not hidden away. His question has not been written over to ignore the doubts those first disciples must’ve had. No, the writer of the Gospel of John thought it was important to write down this story— and I suppose you can read it that he is making an example out of Thomas. But when I read it, I see something else entirely.

If anything, I think this story acknowledges how difficult it is to believe sometimes. That belief doesn’t always come naturally. That even when the people we love the most believe something deeply, we can still question those beliefs. Thomas, rather than being a person who is tearing down anything, is someone who is very concrete. He wants proof. He wants to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead— and really, considering we have a hard time believing it 2,000 years later, can we really blame him for asking the question?

Last week we heard the Easter story from the Gospel of Mark who ends his Gospel with the women fleeing and telling no one about the resurrection. Now here we are in the Gospel of John, and it is still that first day— they have found the empty tomb, they have gathered together to share the news, it’s been a very long and dramatic day and now, as it is evening, Jesus appears to those who are gathered behind closed doors.

And where is Thomas? Where is Thomas? Could it be that he is one of the courageous ones? That while his friends are locking themselves in a room out of fear, Thomas had enough courage to leave that room?

We don’t know, of course, but we do know this. When Thomas returns and cannot believe what his friends are telling him, no one in the story responds in a threatening way. Jesus doesn’t run back to fix it. The disciples don’t throw him out. Thomas lives with his doubt for an entire week- not knowing if the risen Christ will appear again or not. And it’s okay. No one is in hysterics. No one burns him at the stake. No one accuses him of being any less faithful. The church has not always responded well to those who doubt. But Jesus deals kindly with those who question.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, if we have thought through our faith at all, we have all questioned. We have all doubted. It is a part of life.

Several years ago now some letters written by Mother Theresa were published— actually against her will. The letters were never meant to be seen by the public. They were private correspondences that she kept with a few confidantes. What was startling for most people as they began to read these letters, is that the letters give us insight into Mother Theresa’s own feelings of despair. She always held firm to what she was doing— caring for the poor in ways that others would not— but for many many years she did not experience Christ’s presence at all. She was not blessed with the feeling of assurance from God. "I am told God lives in me -- and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul," she once wrote. Here is a person that was often referred to as a living Saint. Here is a person who never wavered in her following of what Jesus did. And yet she questioned whether God really lived in her. And these were only the questions she wrote down.

Saint after saint has written about their experience of questioning and doubting God’s presence. St. John of the Cross called it the Dark Night of the Soul. St. Teresa of Avila wondered , And lest you think that it is only a Catholic phenomenon, when we look at the writings of great Protestants, we find the same thing. John Wesley experienced many questions and doubts through out his life that we are privy to through his journals. Martin Luther wrote about the paradox of God being most present while being absent. The people we admire the most, the people who we see as having deep and abiding faith, are often those who have spent years questioning; who have lived into those questions and only by looking back on their life and seeing how they radically changed how we view God and the church can we see that God was a part of it all.

You see, we are not unique. But rather than despair about these questions, I think we can acknowledge them, listen to them, and follow them to see where they will lead.

Think of all the things we would not have or know if someone had not asked the question. Think about all we would miss out on! We could’ve never gotten to the moon or to Mars if someone had never questioned our assumptions about the earth and the sun and the orbit of the planets. Half of the people in this room would’ve certainly died by now if the medical community wasn’t always questioning how we can improve our healing of diseases. We cannot move forward in acknowledging the disparity of who is arrested if we don’t start questioning why black men are disproportionately imprisoned and killed. Questions lead us to deeper truths. Doubts can serve us well when we demand, like Thomas, to see life so that we can embrace it.

The catch, of course, is to spend time on the questions that matter instead of the ones that take us down a rabbit hole. And Thomas’ question mattered. Thomas desired to see life— to know for himself that resurrection can happen. Thomas’ question led him to Christ.

May we be gracious to one another. May we be courageous enough to ask our questions. And may we find that in asking, there is life; there is resurrection; there is Christ.