Stories, we learned in our early school days in English lessons, are made up of a plot line that has three main parts. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Beginning. Middle. End. That’s a story.
Maybe sermons are the same way, but I am going to skip to the end, and tell you the main point or theme that I hope you will carry away from my words today, and then support it with the rest of the story. Here it is: What if not knowing is the point? Can we all be okay with not knowing? And beyond being okay with not knowing, can we actually love the process of not knowing, because not knowing is just how it is?
Was that confusing? Let’s see if I can make it more clear.
I do not like scary movies. I’ve tried to like scary movies, and be one of those brave people who enjoy them, like Father Martin, for example. But, I think I have to come to grips with the reality that we are all differently and wonderfully made, and some people (like me!) are just better off NOT watching horror movies. They give me nightmares. They make my heart pound in a not-good way. I even roped a friend into this attempt to watch scary movies. Like, if you have already seen the movie, please watch it with me, and then warn me so I know when to cover my eyes and when it’s okay to look again. And having that reassurance of someone who has been there before is often a good way to navigate life. That’s why we have mentors, and career coaches, and support groups like AA where they have sponsors for the newer people in recovery to call upon.
I wonder if that’s the dynamic between Jesus and Thomas. I want to focus on the week or two when Thomas has not seen Jesus, but all the others have. The apostles have seen how it ends – they know of the resurrection of christ. And they tell Thomas, and he’s like “no way, I cannot handle that.” And Jesus appears again to the group and breathes into them the holy spirit (can you imagine how amazing that would be?) and he spends time with Thomas in his fear and uncertainty and says, “yes, Thomas, you can handle the horror and the wonder of all the emotions that come with my death and resurrection. See it for yourself.” But really, Thomas is not too far off from the rest of disciples in any other story of the bible, right?
It’s just this one week or so where Thomas is called out as being the doubter, the one who doesn’t trust until he sees what the other disciples see. But we know from the rest of the stories in the bible that all the disciples fall short time and again of being faithful believers – they often came across as petty and bumbling, falling a sleep a lot of important times, denying they even know their friend Jesus at the most important moments, being jealous of one another and arguing about which one is the greatest, or favorite. I love the disciples. It’s just the way we all seem to navigate the world throughout all recorded history. Even when you would think that humanity would learn, or get better about these kind of issues. Not having all the answers because of our limited perspective seems to be the human condition. It’s not hard to put ourselves into the sandals of disciples on any this, either. I can imagine the confusion and fear of Thomas. I can imagine the sureness of those who saw Jesus.
There are lots of issues where reasonable and unreasonable minds continue to differ: climate change is real and people are contributing to it. No it isn’t, and if it was, the impact of people is negligible. Vaccinations will harm your child; vaccines will save your child’s life. Women are equal to men in every way that matters. No they are not. Jesus our Savior is alive. That’s simply not possible. What’s the point of these arguments? These kind of disagreements are surely not the point of community. I’m not saying they don’t matter. Sometimes we have to take a bold stand for what we know is right, no matter the outcome or consequences. I do think all of our arguments will be ultimately resolved, and then the person who had it wrong is going to feel like a pretty big fool. But right now, the person who is wrong has no idea, and often times, they have to figure that out for themselves.
How we love each other through our differences will be remembered more than anything we say.
All our journeys/stories begin and end with God, so even when we feel very lost, and on the opposite side of a very large gulf between our neighbors in Christ, we can never be truly lost if we focus on the love we carry with us.
It’s just not possible to know everything, and we need to be okay with that. I get to work with law students who are trying to figure out their career paths. What is the job I want? What’s the job I can get? Will anyone even want to hire me? Am I worth being hired at all? These issues, like a lot of the issues where we feel uncertain or where we are willing to fight with others about the issue, strike to the very heart of who we are as people – our worth, our identity, our place in the world.
I see that these students are struggling because of where they are in time. All of the things that are causing stress, keeping them up nights, making them feel unwell, and making them doubt themselves and their choices – it’s all going to make sense to them soon. They have to go through the struggle of it. They have to not know before they get on the path to their career. Other people can point them the way, or tell them how much promise they have, or tell them it’s all going to work out, but they don’t share those feelings at all, no matter what anyone can tell them. The disciples saw Jesus. Thomas didn’t see Jesus – not then, and not yet. But he did see Jesus. We are – each of us – every one of us – on our own timelines for knowing God, and for seeing Jesus, and for finding our faith within this world. There’s an old spiritual that goes something like this (and I am probably getting it wrong but I think it goes): you gotta learn to walk with Jesus. Nobody else can do it for you.
I think of faith development similar to human development. There are stages of concrete thinking and there are stages of nuanced thinking. Each stage is important to our whole. We bring everything to our faith – our rational minds, our ability to be open to the possibility that we have it all wrong, our passion for good, and yes, even our doubts. None of these things can or should be checked at the door when you walk into church, or into relationship with God. Or to school, or to work. Or to finding the truth. Sometimes the truth can be determined. You examine the facts, you logically rifle through the possible conclusions, and you reach a determination that’s pretty absolute. For example, we know that if we go outside there are roses along the wall of the church that Frank Schramling tended. Fact. I haven’t seen him trim the roses, but I know that he does. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. So keep disagreeing but don’t discount anyone’s humanity, and for some issues don’t discount that you might be wrong. I mean, what if we are wrong about everything? it’s a pretty interesting thought exercise to say, “but what if I am wrong on this?” I admit there are some topics where I cannot do it. But there’s a saying – the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. (I’m sure Thomas is relived to hear this saying.) If you know everything, then maybe God should just step aside and let you drive the universe.
The “not knowing” place is the way we spend most of our lives. So, they key to getting through “not knowing” in my opinion, is to be okay with it. Can you be okay with not knowing? Beyond that, can you love it? Can you love not knowing? There’s so much promise in what might be coming next. If stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, then we as humans on the journey are stuck in the middle perpetually until the end. We don’t get to choose when it ends or how it ends. We can find a way to love not knowing, though. And Jesus will be there with us to assuage our doubts. Can you love not knowing?
I have a story I’d like to tell.
No, I have a story I have to tell.
This story is impossible. You’re not going to believe me.
But I have to tell this story. I have to tell it even though I know you won’t believe me.
I have to tell it because it happened. I was there, and it happened, and I have to tell you about it.
Some of you were there, and if you were there you will be able to testify to the truth of my story, even though you were standing in a slightly different place in the room, and even though you may not have heard everything perfectly.
But if you were there
you will know that my story is true,
and you will also need to tell the story,
because people aren’t going to believe us.
But I cannot stress this enough — we have to tell this story.
We have to tell the world what happened, because what happened changed things. It changed everything.
What happened started something new.
Something that has been waiting to happen forever.
And now is that moment. And we saw its beginning.
We were there, and all those who weren’t there will need to hear this story.
And some of them will believe us.
Some of them will hear the words
pouring forth from our hearts,
and the words will be balm
that soothes their woundedness.
They will hear the words
and they will recognize
something that sounds like God,
and they will be inspired
to share that feeling that
wells up in them
with someone else
who isn’t in the room.
They will tell others about what they heard,
and they will testify to that feeling
that welled up in them
when we talked
about what happened,
and they will connect that feeling
to the livingness of God,
and they will be right to do so,
because the living God
who moved their heart to feel
is the same living God
who gave us the words to speak,
and is the same living God
who caused to happen
that thing we saw.
And we do not have language for what we saw.
We cannot explain it perfectly.
We will need new words.
We will need scrolls,
and internets of
We will need centuries
of new words
to describe that moment we had.
We will need to rewrite the meaning of every history ever told.
We will need to give our children new names;
to draw new maps;
to sing new melodies.
We will need a new culture because of that moment we had together.
And some of them will not believe us.
Some of them will not think it real,
this moment that we had.
But we cannot let that disbelief stop us from telling this story.
Because if death, itself, was conquered,
and what we saw what was we saw,
then certainly disbelief can be overcome.
Thomas proved that.
And so did we.
Who among us could before we saw with our own eyes?
But they will not have seen.
What we need is to tell the story
— for them and for us —
and we need to let our own hearts
be softened by the memory
of what we saw.
We need to describe Jerusalem
on the morning it happened.
We need to talk about
the way the sky looked after it happened.
We need to talk about
how our entire life felt like a drop of water in the
ocean of God,
and how no metaphor
could be expansive enough,
and how every metaphor
gets us a little closer
to the feeling of
We need to risk sounding crazy,
to risk sounding irrational,
to risk not making sense.
Because what just happened is absurd, isn’t it?
What just happened to us happened, didn’t it?
If it did,
Does that mean sin has lost its hold?
Does that mean that we are finally home,
and that this exile of our souls, and bodies, and lives
is finally done?
Even more, could it mean that
God can suffer, too?
Was he not God?
Did he not die?
I know he did,
but he rose, too.
So, what of God,
who does not die or let the words of peace and love
stay in the tomb?
This is new!
So, we have to tell this story.
We have to keep telling this story.
Because when we tell this story,
we point to the
that is unfolding all around us.
will want to understand,
and they will understand
what it felt like,
and then they will know
what it feels like,
and then they will come alive
in the new world
which God is creating
all around us.
That is why we tell the story.
That is why we say, CHRIST IS RISEN!
Because we were there.
And we saw it.
We touched him.
And now we have to tell this story.
You have to tell this story.
The late Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, struggled with a question that a lot of Christians have struggled with: what does God do with good and compassionate and decent people who don’t go to church? Are those folks rejected by God, will they be punished by God? Will they be sent to hell by God? And if so, how are we to reconcile these people’s manifest goodness alongside our conviction that God is just? Isn’t God punishing those good Muslims or Hindus or atheists wrong?
Rahner’s solution was to come up with the notion of the Anonymous Christian. The Anonymous Christian is someone who doesn’t know about Jesus or maybe even someone who does know about Jesus but who refuses to worship him, but whose life is so congruent with Jesus’ teaching that we recognize the work of the Spirit in them. Such a person, Rahner suggested, meets the test for being a Christian whether they know it or not, whether they want to or not.
The Anonymous Christian is a notion that has been critiqued pretty broadly by people who are Christians but who aren’t anonymous about it. On the one hand, there is a camp that says that nobody gets into heaven without accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour, that to fail to do so, whether by ignorance or by choice, is to head down to the road to damnation. This theology was pretty widespread pretty recently – my Mom says that, as a young nurse, she and her colleagues were trained to do emergency baptisms on dying or stillborn babies – and it continues to have a lot of traction with a lot of Christians today.
I will show my hand right now and confess that I don’t have a lot of patience for this argument, for the simple reason that it makes God into a psychopath. If God is so small and so petty that God is dooming people to eternal punishment for failing to worship God, then you and I actually moral duty to refuse to worship God. We have a Christian duty to refuse to worship God. This fear-based picture of God is a fundamental rejection of the promise found in 1John that God is Love, a fundamental rejection of the Gospel. It is in no way the basis for a good or generative or life-giving church.
On the other hand, the opposite hand, there are folks who argue against the notion of the Anonymous Christian because they feel that it shows an absence of respect for the faith of people who aren’t Christian. What Jew or Muslim or Hindu or Atheist, these folks ask, would want to be called an Anonymous Christian? Or sometimes they will phrase the question the other way around: would you, as someone who goes to church, someone who is a Christian, want to be called an Anonymous Jew or an Anonymous Muslim or an Anonymous Hindu or an Anonymous Atheist? Wouldn’t you find that label incoherent or inappropriate or even offensive?
For a while, I found that argument pretty persuasive. And thus I concluded that Rahner’s concept of Anonymous Christianity was at odds with genuine respect of our neighbours, at odds with Jesus’ command to love our neighbours as ourselves. But more recently – particularly as I have visited Mosques and Jewish Temples and experienced a connection with the people whom I met there – I’ve been less sure that I accept the premise of this argument:
I’ve asked myself: Would I actually be offended if someone called me an Anonymous Jew or Muslim or Hindu or Atheist?
Well, it depends. I would be offended if what someone meant by those words is that I don’t really love Jesus. But if what someone meant, instead, is that I was the sort of person who really got what religion was about, what life was about, what love was about, if they meant that what they saw in me was someone who was living in a way that was congruent with their most cherished and beloved values – well, that wouldn’t offend me in the least. In that scenario, I would be delighted for someone to call me an anonymous version of the identity that the claim for themselves.
Indeed, that might be the highest praise that one person could give to another.
Today we encounter Paul in Athens. He is standing on an elevated parcel of land, what is sometimes known as Mars Hill because of its traditional connection with the God, Mars, and he is speaking to a substantial crowd.
he praises the gathered people,
How religious you are in every way.
And then he talks about touring the city and finding one altar or shrine after another. Until, at last, he came to an altar dedicated to an unknown God.
Paul tells them that he knows the God of which this altar speaks.
Paul’s speech is lengthy (this is the second week in a row in which the lectionary gives us what amounts to a full-on monologue). And it is an amazing speech. Viewing it today through the lens of Rahner’s concept of the Anonymous Christian, it is amazing me all the new.
Notice that in this entire speech, Paul never utters the name “Jesus.” This is a fascinating example for us as Christians. Maybe this is a challenging example for us as Christians. Because it seems to me that when many or most of us speak of evangelism, one of the big things that we mean by that word is uttering the name Jesus early and often. Talking about Jesus a lot is pretty much what every evangelist who has ever knocked on my front door has door has done. But Paul – who is kind of big deal within the church – gives us an evangelical example in which he does something quite different.
What Paul does here is to engage in what scholars call inculturation: he talks about the Gospel by using the language and imagery and the symbols of the people with whom he is talking. In doing so, he displays immense respect for the people to whom he speaks. And he also dramatically ramps up the likelihood that they will be able to hear him and understand him.
Listening to Paul talk about Jesus without saying the name Jesus, I am reminded of Richard Rohr’s advice that names like “God” or “Spirit” or “Church” are placeholders: they are symbols that point at something deeper and bigger. Thus, Rohr goes on, only use these names if they are freeing and life-giving to you. If the word “God” is incoherent or meaningless to you or to the one whom you speak or, worse yet, if the word “God” is representative of anger or fear or violence or anti-intellectualism or bigotry to you or the one to whom you speak, then follow Paul’s example and use another word.
Throughout his speech, Paul assumes that the Athenians are already in relationship with God, that they already know God. When he speaks approvingly of their religiosity, when he says that the altar to an Unknown God is naming something true and real, he moves away from an imperialistic or a paternalistic understanding of faith, whereby it is his job to bring the one truth to the ignorant or wayward. Instead, Paul allows and indeed celebrates the possibility that even as he has something to teach the Athenians, he also has something to learn from them. That, maybe, even as they are Anonymous Christians he is an Anonymous adherent of their faith.
The problem with the second critique of Anonymous Christianity – the one that says that Rahner’s notion is disrespectful to Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Atheists – is that it inadvertently perpetuates the damaging notion that the great faiths or value systems of the world are in competition with one another, much like competing businesses, each trying to attract the most customers, so that our goal as church is to get people to shop with Jesus rather than shopping with someone else.
This way of seeing reality – which we could expressly crassly by saying “My God is real, yours isn’t” – is actually at odds with monotheism, with the promise that God is One, that God is in all things, that all human bodies are temples of God, that the whole earth is full of God’s glory. It is at odds with our conviction that what we proclaim here is the deep and eternal truth and, therefore (and again, here is Richard Rohr), that if it is true here and now, it must be true always and everywhere. Paul says as much. Listen to his words, listen as he speaks of the God who made the world and everything – everything – in it, the Lord of heaven and earth. Listen as, using his audience’s own holy texts, Paul proclaims the good news:
We too are his offspring.
In God we live and move and have our being.
In other words, all of us are children of God. All of us were created by God. And at the end of our days, God will welcome all of us home.
In the name of the Risen Christ…
Good morning friends and welcome on this day we properly call the Second Sunday of Easter rather than thinking of it as the first Sunday after Easter as some of us are inclined to do. They are not equivalent terms and the distinction is important as a way of recognizing that Easter Day is only the beginning of a fifty-day season within which we as the community of Christ continue to reflect on the implications and consequences of the resurrection of Jesus. It is also a way of acknowledging that the resurrection was not a singular moment in time past but is an on-going event that transcends time and place as we ordinarily know it. In that light, our presence here today is nothing less than another sign of the power and the truth that was revealed to Mary Magdalene and the Apostles and it represents for us an opportunity to affirm our own belief in Jesus.
Today’s gospel passage neatly illustrates the interwoven nature of the resurrection experience for the disciples, as it is, from one perspective, the continuation of the encounter that Mary had with Jesus at the empty tomb on Easter morning, and from another perspective it depicts the subsequent appearances of Jesus first on that same evening to all of the original disciples except Judas the betrayer and Thomas whose absence there is noted but unexplained and whose famous encounter with Jesus occurred a full week later.
The overlapping and evolving perceptions of those to whom the risen Christ revealed himself seems to call us to be careful about putting too fine a point on what exactly happened in those days but at the same time, taken as a whole, they present a compelling witness to the sublime truth of Jesus’ identity that confronts our reasonable doubts and fears.
If, for instance, we are tempted to wonder if the resurrection story was contrived to persuade a gullible flock of sheep of an impossibility…we should ask ourselves who would have told such a tale by starting with the testimony of a woman whose testimony by virtue of her gender would not have been allowed in a court of law in a routine, minor case and whose reputation would preclude her from admittance even to the company of so-called decent folk? No one would do so- except to record a God inspired event through which the outcast, the marginalized and the despised of the world are recognized as a primary means for divine revelation.
It is easy enough to imagine such a group of outcasts huddling together in fear of their neighbors as the news of the empty tomb spread, barring their door as best they can while waiting in terror for what must soon be the terrible approach of Pilot’s shock troops in search of the missing body of the crucified “King of the Jews”. Neither is it difficult to imagine that the imminent threat of reprisal was infinitely more convincing than the singular affirmation that Mary had “seen the Lord”. But who could imagine the joy of finding that very one in their midst or that he would come without words of recrimination for abandoning him in his time of trial. Rather he came with words of peace and consolation and even found them fit to carry on his Father’s work in the world in the same way and in the same Spirit as he had himself done.
The gravity of this commissioning can hardly be overstated. It is a holy work of making God known in the world and inevitably it touches upon the burden of sin that is either forgiven or retained in accordance with the response to the gospel message of Jesus by which the world renders judgment for good or ill upon itself.
And so, in the gospel text we come at last, to Thomas, “Doubting Thomas” as he has been commonly known but let us take another look to see whether this is the best way to remember him. John’s gospel, for instance, mentions Thomas in several contexts that can tell us more about the man he was before the resurrection.
Earlier in Jesus’ ministry as he walked about in the Temple a number of those who were suspicious of his teaching and authority attempted to arrest and even stone him. Eventually he “escaped from their hands” … and He went away again across the Jordan to the place where the Baptist had been…and remained there.” After a time, word came to him of the death of Lazarus and ultimately, despite the disciple’s warnings and fears that they were all endangered he decided to return to Judea again to be with his friend Lazarus. Thomas then “said to his fellow disciples, let us also go that we may die with him.”
Soon after, when Jesus and the disciples had entered Jerusalem and were gathered together for the last time Jesus told the disciples that he was preparing a place for them and that they knew the way but Thomas replied, “Lord we do not know where you are going, how then can we know the way?”
So, we can see in these revealing moments that Thomas is a volatile mix of stern commitment and frustrating uncertainty. He is all in with Jesus but he doesn’t yet know for what.
There is, however, no record of Thomas being anywhere near Jesus at the time of his arrest, trial and crucifixion and so it seems fair to wonder how well Thomas, like Peter, bore the guilt of his bold but empty promise to die with Christ. It may even be that Thomas was in hiding for fear and shame on the evening that Jesus appeared to the other disciples but at some point in time, whether later that evening or during the course of the week “the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord’” and he then declared- in perfect agreement with millions of other like-minded souls down through the ages “ Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
By his obstinacy, Thomas becomes something like the Patron Saint of the Skeptical who will never allow what they cannot prove to their own satisfaction. It is no wonder that in our age of rank materialism when faith is supplanted by statistical probability and data collection is the measure of truth that the gospel message slips by unknown and undetected. And yet Thomas’ desire for physical confirmation of the resurrection is quite natural as Jesus recognized and granted and the orthodox tradition has always affirmed.
There are things to notice and admire about Thomas as he struggles to reconcile his desire for certainty with his need to grow beyond his own expectations. For one thing, no matter how disappointed or conflicted he may have been in his spiritual life he kept coming back, grumpy and combative though he was. It is no small thing. People often find their deepest faith in the heart of the very things that have troubled them most. For another, Thomas was a person whom we might say “unlocked the locked doors” where his own fears dwelt and soon recognized the presence of Christ to such a degree that he could genuinely say without restraint or qualification “My Lord and My God!” No clearer, more direct, or more powerful proclamation of faith has ever been uttered.
We can only wonder about the moment that Thomas became a believer in Jesus and what that might have meant to him. For me, it brings to mind Paul’s beautiful expression of “beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” To come before Jesus as Thomas did bearing a lifetime of attitude and old baggage only to have it all vanish in a moment as he received the holy spirit in Christ’s presence is the moment when the gospel message gained traction in the world as time would soon show.
Anyone can still try to dismiss the story as a pious and irrelevant fantasy but at least one hard fact stands against it, namely that there is a church in Malabar, India called the Mar Thoma Church which has proudly known itself for nearly two thousand years to be the place where Thomas brought the Gospel from Palestine, across Jordan and Syria, Iraq, Iran and on into India. 2,000 years ago. And while he was it he has been credited, at least, with authorship of the Gospel of Thomas, which is certainly becoming one of the most famous and influential of all of the ancient manuscripts that archeologists and scholars have recovered.
One wonders why we persist in telling the story as if it is primarily about doubt when it is so plainly about belief. Perhaps, we are better prepared to perceive and accept the doubt rather than receive and embrace the faith that is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In any case, Thomas would be better named and more truly known as St. Thomas, The Believer. That is after all the point of the whole story and the culmination of John’s gospel message. In a very profound way the whole book points toward Thomas. Not because his story is supreme but because his story is our story and the book is written that we might have life in the name of Jesus just as Thomas did!
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.