Thomas should never have been labeled “Doubting Thomas.” He should have been Thomas the Brave or Thomas the Practical. It’s not like resurrection was an everyday occurrence. First, we have to give Thomas credit for being out in the world when the rest of Jesus’ disciples and close friends where hiding in a locked room. Thomas was out when the Risen Christ showed up the first time.
We also have to remember that none of the disciples believed the women when they reported that Jesus had risen. Now, later that same day, the Risen Christ shows up in the locked room. I would bet that none of those gathered there believed their eyes or ears. No one was expecting a resurrected Jesus to join in their gathering. It doesn’t matter what Jesus told them before hand; they were not expecting him to literally rise from the dead. Seriously, who would?
When Thomas returned to the group and they told him what they had experienced, his response was very practical. He needed to experience it for himself before he believed. Isn’t this true for all of us? Don’t we have to experience God in some way before we truly believe? Thomas wasn’t a doubter. Thomas was smart. In a world full of charlatans taking advantage of grief and suffering, Thomas needed to know for sure that Jesus had returned from the dead.
You’ll notice that when Jesus did return with Thomas in the room, Thomas trusted what he saw and heard; he didn’t actually need to touch Jesus’ wounds. Just that fact that Jesus invited Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and his side, was enough. Perhaps the connecting point was deep woundedness. Thomas authentically professed his faith in that moment.
What of us? Where have we experienced the Risen Christ?
This passage gives us some clues as to where we are most likely to encounter Christ. First, when we are least expecting it. Those locked in that room were expecting to be arrested by the Jewish or Roman authorities long before they were anticipating Jesus walking through the walls. We cannot set the conditions or the parameters for when Jesus will show up.
Second, we are far more likely to experience the Risen Christ when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another. Pain, grief, loss, and fear gathered the disciples in that room. Not one of them could hide or deny the pain of losing Jesus or the fear of being arrested and also put to death. Then Jesus comes in and identifies himself with his wounds. Vulnerability and woundedness opens us to the power of resurrection. We don’t have to be flawless. We have to be authentic and whole, even in our suffering.
Lastly, questioning the experience of others is acceptable. Jesus didn’t cast Thomas out of the group because he was skeptical about the experience of his peers. In fact, Jesus offered Thomas exactly what he said he needed. Perhaps we should invite more questions about our religious experiences, rather than dismiss those with doubts as “weak.” No one could possibly call Thomas weak, not even Jesus.
It’s a week after Easter. Do you know where Jesus is? None of us will find him if we pursue perfection. We will not find him when we live in fear of our neighbors. We will not find him in our judgments of those we label as “other.” We will not find him in the words of politicians and those who profit from war, violence, and division. We will not find him in our traditions and doctrine that exclude the most vulnerable among us.
The Risen Christ is to be found where vulnerabilities meet. Your woundedness and my grief. My doubts and your struggles with addiction. Your fears and my self-protection. My worries and your self-disregard. And so many other places where we acknowledge our deep wounds and our need for healing, healing that comes at the invitation of the Risen Christ.
May we all be like Thomas…