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St. Mark’s

Is it okay to doubt?

By Rev Gav

John 20:19-29

Do you hate being left out? I do. There is that hollow feeling you get when you discover that everyone was at a party to which you were not invited. The next day your friends tell you what an amazing time they all had, how incredible the food was, how funny and charming and excellent the host was, and how they all laughed and had the best time ever… without you. How does it make you feel? Angry? Disappointed? Resentful? Jealous? Sulky? Perhaps you would mutter through gritted teeth, “I never wanted to go the stupid party anyway.” Well, imagine the biggest event in all history; the most momentous occasion that had ever been; something that all your closest friends witnessed, and you missed it. If you can imagine that, then you have some idea how the disciple Thomas felt when the resurrected Jesus first appeared to his disciples.

John, in his Gospel simply says, “But Thomas was not with them when Jesus came.” Thomas missed out. Perhaps he had nipped out for something to eat, to go to the shops, or to sort out some work issues? Who knows why he was not with the other eleven, but what a thing to miss! If I was him I would have felt utterly crushed. It is also worth remembering that, at the time, they had no idea whether Jesus would appear again, and for all they knew, that could have been the one and only occasion they would witness the resurrected Christ.

We do not get the intonation of how people spoke their words recorded in the Bible, but I can hear Thomas when he says, “Unless I see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put my finger in the hole in his side I won’t believe it.” It would have been enough for Thomas just to see Jesus but no, Thomas says something utterly exaggerated and extreme — he says he wants to stick his fingers in the wound were Jesus was pierced. If you think about it, that is pretty disgusting! Some time later Jesus reappeared and he used Thomas’s exact words, inviting Thomas to stick his fingers in the wound. I love this! I bet Jesus did it with a wink and a wry smile. Be careful for what you ask!

Jesus would have known that Thomas would not be present when he first appeared to the disciples, and there are no ‘wasted words’ in John’s gospel, and we know that every story is there for a reason. Like many other stories in John’s gospel it contains layers of meaning.

Firstly, it speaks to the physical nature of Jesus’ resurrection. Resurrection was not a new concept — the idea that people would be physically raised from the dead — but, until now, it had not yet happened. Jesus was the first-born of a new creation. In the words of Spock from Star Trek, “It’s life Jim but not as we know it!” Resurrection is creation but not as we know it. It is both physical and metaphysical. The resurrected Jesus was not a ghost or a spirit, and Thomas touching Jesus was important to confirm the physical reality of resurrection.

Secondly — and this is the deeper meaning — the whole story of Thomas is a metaphoric microcosm of the whole gospel. In the same way that Jesus returned to seek out, welcome, and include Thomas, Jesus comes to us — the lonely, marginalised, and left out — calls us by name, welcomes us, and includes us in his kingdom. Jesus wants us to see his resurrection and who he really is; wants us to come to him and declare him, like Thomas, as ‘Lord and God’. The story of Thomas is a reminder that we are all invited to the party and that, where God is concerned, no-one is left out.

Poor Thomas got later labelled as ‘Doubting Thomas’, but it is okay to doubt and ask questions, and if you are in any doubt about that, then this story should reassure you! We often think that doubt is the opposite of faith, but this is not true. Doubt is simply to accept the possibility that something may or may not exist or be true. Faith is to choose to accept and believe in that possibility. Faith cannot exist without doubt.

When the risen Jesus appeared, first to his disciples, and then again for the benefit of Thomas, he used the same opening words “Peace be with you.” If today, you feel lonely, marginalised, excluded, left out, unimportant, or insignificant, God’s message to you is that you are invited to party. God, the Holy Trinity, wants to welcome you into their family, to bring you peace, and there is a gold-plated invitation, hand-written by God, with your name on it.

Heaps of Peace

Rev Gav