Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St Thomas, 1601-1602

Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St Thomas, 1601-1602

Yesterday in our worship gathering we read John 20:19-31 together. Here's a little more about that reading.

One would think that after witnessing the resurrection of Jesus the disciples would have been filled with courage through the knowledge that all things are possible with God and that he did not abandon Jesus to the grave but raised him from death. The Scriptures, however, consistently paint a very different picture.

The disciples scatter after the events of those three days, they hide away or deny ever knowing Jesus. In Luke's account two of the disciples seem to simply walk away from Jerusalem as though it was all over until they actually met Jesus on their way. The Sunday after Easter is known as Low Sunday in some traditions because in contrast with the joy of easter, the Disciples went and hid away and laid low.

After he was raised Jesus pursued his disciples. They had been so fickle in the time of his earthly ministry and it appears they had been confoundingly un-changed by the relaity of the resurrection at this point. If Peter could deny ever knowing Jesus despite witnessing his glory on the mountain top and seeing him raise a man from the grave, then Peter's fear might be more stubborn than the news of the ressurection could shake. So Jesus makes every effort in all patience to keep pursuiing his disciples, keep meeting them in their fear and keep showing them the truth: He bears the mortal wounds of Roman crucifixion and yet he walks in a ressurected body. 

"Do not disbelieve, but believe"

Thomas is famously singled out in this resurrection appearance as being the 'doubter' but he is only asking for the experience that the other disciples had the previous week. They saw Jesus' wounds and so Thomas desires to also. Thomas has two other lines in John's Gospel: 

  • Once after Lazarus died and Jesus says he will go to see him, Thomas percieves how dangerous this course of action will be and says "let us die with him!"
  • Again after Jesus is teaching about the world he is working to create (John calls it eternal life and the other Gospels call it the Kingdom of God), Thomas asks how they will know the way, and Jesus says "I am the way, the truth, and the life".

Thomas doesn't show doubt in these moments so much as a misunderstanding of what Jesus' purpose is. Thomas thinks that in following Jesus there will be violence or force used, or that they will have to go somewhere special. This is the kind of misunderstanding Jesus can deal with. Thomas is willing to accept whatever the cost following Jesus will be, but he is not willing to follow after a lie or a fairytale. 

This is why he wants to see the wounds for himself. He, perhaps more than the others, grasps that if Jesus is raised from the dead then everything will be different. If Jesus is really raised then what he said about being the way, the truth and the life; and that he can lead us to a new way of living, a way of being in fellowship with God and even dwelling in the Father's house, is true!

John concludes this story by telling us that all he wrote, he wrote so that people might believe Jesus is the Christ. Jesus ascended to the Father and we today may not touch his wounded flesh, yet we are invited to share in Thomas' experience and come to our own decision on whether Jesus was raised. 

Maybe like Thomas this news could unlock for us a whole new kind of living.