Our reading this week is one that we regularly read the week following Easter Sunday. It is the story of the first sighting or appearance by Jesus to his disciples following the resurrection, and of a second appearance a week later.
During both appearances Jesus comes to his disciples showing the scars of his crucifixion, declaring that peace be with them and surprising them.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Thomas was not present at the first appearance and so struggles to believe the other disciples when they tell him that they had seen the Risen Lord.
Ah Thomas, I believe he gets a bit of a bad reputation here. From now on he is known as Doubting Thomas – but let’s be totally honest, I think I could safely say every one of us would have declared the same thing – “Unless (we) see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put (our) finger in the mark of the nails and (our) hand in his side, (we) will not believe.”
I would really like us to stop referring to Thomas as the one who doubted. The other times that Thomas is mentioned in John’s gospel shows us that he had some insight into what was going on, some bravery to take the steps forward that were needed and understood much more than the other disciples did.
In John’s gospel we first come across Thomas following the death of Lazarus where he encourages the disciples to follow Jesus to Jerusalem saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). Later, during the Farewell Discourse (chapters 13-17) Thomas replies to one of Jesus’ commands to follow him saying “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5)
Later in Thomas’ life, well after our reading for this week, he became a teacher and preacher travelling to India to begin the church in that country. He became known as Saint Thomas following his death in India.
Thomas did a whole more than just struggle to believe that Jesus was alive. When he did see Jesus, he didn’t bother checking the scars of Jesus’ wounds, he believed and declared “My Lord and my God!” This is the only time in all the gospels that this statement is made, recognising both the human and the divine status of Jesus.
Thomas’ questioning was a very human action. We all question, we all seek answers, we all have scars to explore, to show and to hide. Jesus did not think any less of Thomas for his questions, in fact he shared the pain of these scars with him and the other disciples. Scars can help us understand things better, help us to walk alongside others who have similar scars, help us to change and move forward. Scars can help us with the terms of the resurrection and help us remember that we are human, and that God sits with us in our pain, our scars, and our humanity.