Doubting Thomas + Second Sunday of Easter by The Rev. Mary Anne Gard

Lessons:

Acts 5:27-32
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31
Psalm 118:14-29

 

 

Today our Gospel scene opens with the disciples huddled and frozen with fear in the upper room. The doors and windows are barred. It is dark and the air is thick with depression, despair, and the worst of all – doubt.

Despite the years, and travels, and private tutorials, and miracles, they wonder if they knew this Jesus at all. Serious doubt about the man, his message, and his claims to know God’s mind, wrapped cold, clammy tendrils around their souls.

We can see their faith squeezed out of them, dripping off their sandals and running through cracks in the rough floor boards. That bright, loud, triumphant Easter we celebrated last Sunday is nowhere to be found. There isn’t even an echo of an Alleluia.

We don’t get a chance to finish the first sentence of this Gospel, when all of a sudden there is Jesus appearing as the subject, verb, object and the disquieting punctuation mark, “Peace be with you.”

The guys, and I think they are all guys because I’m sure Jesus spent his resurrection morning visiting his mom (wouldn’t you go see your mom first if you just rose from the dead?) – visiting his mom, the Mary’s and other women, who have been crying and praying for 3 days, believing and waiting. I’m sure that is why it was evening before he made it to this sad little room.

Imagine for a moment that you are cowered in fear with them, and Jesus arrives without a warning. What would you do? Jump? Faint? Scream? After that would you run, hide, pull Peter in front of you and say “You deal with it.” Those are all normal reactions for us humans. Within one second we are programed to jump from one emotion to another in order to preserve our life.

Probably the last thought that crosses ours minds is that this is really the man Jesus we knew. The same man we just saw die a grisly death could not be standing before us. Would it be an understatement to say we have major doubt about what is before our eyes. Jesus knows this is the normal, human reaction – to have doubt. It is another one of our built in protective devices.

So, after his startling appearance, the next thing he does is show us his wounds. He shows proof to all of us frightened doubters.

Then, because in our despair, shock and fight or flight reflex turmoil, we didn’t hear him the first time, he declares again. “Peace be with you.”

In that statement, Jesus says, “Despite your doubts, and my doubts (remember the garden of Gesthemane), let our faith in the love and care of God, and God’s ability to carry us all the way through to the end, be rewarded today. I have indeed risen from the dead.”

As we know, Thomas wasn’t a witness to that appearance. When he does show up the disciples bombard him with their enthusiastic, wild claims of seeing Jesus alive again.

Be honest, I bet there isn’t a one of us here who would believe a bunch of our buddies telling us a beloved friend had come back from the dead. Something major like that requires serious proof.

Really, Thomas is not out of line in holding back his belief and enthusiasm. But, we have given poor Thomas the moniker of “Doubting Thomas,” and highlighted him as the poster child of lost faith, and therefore a sinner on the downhill slide to hell.

Why are we so quick point our “holier than thou” fingers at him. Amy B. Hunter (“The Show-me disciple” Christian Century) says in her commentary on this Gospel, “Doubts and uncertainty frighten us. That’s why we reject Thomas – he dares to bring doubt into our lives of faith.”

Let me put the Thomas story in a more modern context. Have any of you studied the
Enneagram? The Enneagram is a tool primarily used, by many people, to determine personality type. It is similar to the Myers Briggs, but it can be more nuanced and used to unlock motivations for spiritual, career, and psychological behaviors.
It can also be used to heal our wounds accumulated from childhood.

Ennea means 9. There are 9 types located equidistant around a circle. Each type brings its own gifts and problems. I think Thomas fits in here at a 6. That’s what I am, and so I understand his doubts and actions.

A six is called the “Loyal Skeptic.” Sixes are considered the glue of any organization. They want everyone to get along and work together to keep the organization healthy. They are called loyal because once they believe in a cause or a person, it is almost impossible pry them from that loyalty.

They are called skeptic because they don’t fully trust anyone. We might better call them, the Loyal Doubters. Because they doubt they look at all sides of a person, problem or organization. Sixes want to know the full picture, before they offer loyalty, before they can shed their doubt.

So how might a six react in a situation of peers. Let me give you an example from a workshop that Katie, my wife, and I attended.

The facilitator said to us room full of people, “I’m going to make four statements and I want you to write down the first answer that comes to your mind. Then we will compare.

Katie is an Enneagram 8. Eight’s are very confident. They are usually the corporation CEO’s. So here are the statements and our responses:

1) Hi My name is John.
8 – “Hi John!” (extends hand to shake with John)
6- thinks to self “ok” (hangs back in the crowd watching everyone)

2) I’ m your new boss.
8- “Welcome. I look forward to working with you.”
6 – (Thinks) “What does this mean for my position? Am I going to have to take on more work?
Will he fire me?”

3) We have a long way to go with this company.
8- “I have several ideas I’d like to run by you.”
6- (Thinks) I like the company just way it is. We work well together now. What does a long way to go mean?

4) I’ll set up appointments so that I can meet each one of you personally.
8- “It will be a pleasure to get to know you better.”
6- (Thinks) What does he want me to say? What should I wear to look right.

The eight personality is directly engaging, charging ahead, vocal. The six personality is quiet, evaluating all the options for the good of self and the institution.

Both of these types are valuable and necessary to a well functioning personality, relationship and organization. Along with the other 7 types, they balance the system. What one cannot do, the other can.

I see Thomas functioning as the Loyal Skeptic in our Gospel. He desperately wants to keep his faith in Jesus. He doesn’t want to give up his loyalty to Jesus’s mission nor his group of friends. But, he doesn’t want to be a fool either.

He wants to judge for himself, and for the good of the cause, if these fantastic claims of
resurrection are true. And, I think Jesus knows this. Jesus well knows human frailty and needs. Jesus knows that some of us, maybe most of us, need clear concrete proof, especially for the truly unbelievable.

So Jesus gives us Thomas. Thomas the one who voices the unbelief that all the apostles shared, just one week before in that bolted, depressing room. Thomas is us. Thomas is the desire to believe, but still be doubtful. As commentator, Stan Harstine states:

“Throughout history, Thomas became the exemplar for a variety of human frailties: First, he is the example for those who struggle with the absence of visual evidence.

Second, he is the example for those who express their various doubts.

Third, he is the example for those who think the resurrection impossible.

Finally, Thomas comes to exemplify all the disciples in their doubts.” (“Un-Doubting Thomas: Recognition Scenes in the Ancient World” Stan Harstine, Perspectives in Religious Studies.)

Doubting is normal, necessary and healthy. I think Jesus wants us to doubt, to question our faith, our faith in anything. To grow in personhood and spirit we need to be prepared to shed unhelpful beliefs.

We need to constantly renew ourselves, continuously examine our motives, critically examine the world’s claim to absolute truth. We need to be able to say to Jesus, the Church, and each other, I have serious doubts about you, this rule, this creed.

Doubting Thomas is a hero. He had the guts to voice what all the others were afraid to admit. Thomas demanded that Jesus be personally accountable to him.

Jesus grants Thomas and us, the safety to do that. That was all Thomas needed to renew the loyalty he never fully abandoned. And now, with whole heart and soul he is able to give all of us the hard earned, well examined, now unshakable faith in Jesus with the words: “My Lord and My God.”

But don’t take my word for it. Don’t take Thomas’ word for it. Ask Jesus yourself. Jesus
welcomes, perhaps even demands suspicious seekers and serious skeptics.