But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’John 20:24-29
There are very few Christians who can say that they have never experienced times of doubt. Even our Archbishop of Canterbury once spoke to a journalist of his own times of doubt.
In the verses immediately preceding today’s reading we hear of the other disciples rejoicing, only after Jesus had shown them his hands and his side.
We should not be surprised by Thomas’ doubt. In fact, we could view it as an example of faithful discipleship. Jesus had warned his followers to be wary of false messiahs and false prophets. Thomas was being cautious and taking care to obey his Lord and Master.
Despite these additional thoughts, we still identify Thomas as being the one who doubted.
Faith is an essential part of living as a Christian. None of us can share in the first disciples’ privileged position of actually seeing the risen Jesus, complete with the wounds of the crucifixion. We have to number ourselves with those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
For many, belief comes before faith. These people develop a confidence in their picture of Jesus, and then comes the personal commitment to follow him in faith. For others, the process is reversed, a leap of faith is made without a foundation of any particular beliefs. Wherever we are on this spectrum belief and faith each give rise to doubt.
For many Christians doubt occurs whenever a gap opens between our personal experience and the picture of dogma, tradition and scripture that we have chosen to live by.
It is commonly thought that strong faith never doubts. But … we need to be wary of that phrase ‘strong faith’. What it usually means is ‘faith set in concrete’: beliefs and religious practices that are never allowed to vary and develop, beliefs and religious practices that eventually stand in the way of us developing a living relationship with our Living God.
Thomas doubted. But, Thomas was ready to have it proved that he was wrong. His strong faith in Jesus still allowed his mind to open when confronted with something new, something unexpected, something that had definitely never been seen before.
Then Thomas spoke those words that should be ever on our own lips: My Lord and my God.
May those words of Thomas be ever with us as we face the challenges that cause us to share in his moments of doubt.