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April 3, 2016, 8:49 AM

Empowered to Witness

by Sandy Bach

26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 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 20:26-29 NRSV)

 

Who is Thomas?  He's not “Doubting Thomas.”  He’s a faithful, faith filled disciple. So, if he’s not a doubter, who is he?

I wonder if Thomas is one of those talented, geeky engineer types. He is the computer nerd who loses track of time. He can make computers do marvelous things, but he can barely hold a conversation with a human being. He is that intelligent engineer who second-gueses those new bridge plans until the rest of us are groaning in pain.

I love these people for the simple reason that I’m not one of them. My creative brain would rather select a color pattern for the bridge than determine its strength. I couldn’t fix a broken computer code if my life depended on it.

Perhaps Thomas is from the Show-Me state of Missouri. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25b NRSV)  Seeing isn’t enough for him. He has to touch, as well. Will he bring a magnifying glass along? Perhaps he’ll demand a DNA test.

Who is this Thomas? Is he the skeptic in some of our churches who doesn’t trust those who count the offering? Or the one who questions someone’s faith because they don’t buy into every single line of the creed? Or is he the cynic who doesn’t believe that those girls were really approached inappropriately?  [Nancy Claire Pittman, “Feasting on the Word: Homiletical Perspective (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) Year C Volume 2 Page 399 & 401]

Every time they speak, they hurt someone and that lack of trust tears at the core of the congregation.  If this is the Thomas of our scripture passage, we would like for him to trust his fellow disciples and what they all reported to him. We would like for him to be a bit more forgiving and flexible. We wish for him a spirit of love and respect, rather than rigid legalism.

Or, maybe Thomas is shattered by the events of Holy Week. That triumphal entry was amazing! But Jesus kept talking about crucifixion and resurrection. It was too much to take in. And while he tried to figure out what Jesus was saying, there was that Passover Meal where he washed Thomas’ feet and dried them tenderly with a towel. He told them to love each other as Jesus loved them.

That was strange.

Then the betrayal by one of their own group. The denial by Peter. He ran away with the rest of the disciples. And, finally, crucifixion. There are so many questions; so much hurt and pain. Thomas is numb.

So, when he returns from wherever he was, he stands firm and says, “I can’t believe until I see.” It wasn’t distrust of his friends. He’s fumbling and wondering where God is.

Perhaps Thomas is feeling left out. Where was he that evening? Why wasn’t he locked in that room with the rest of the disciples? Perhaps he went out for supplies and when he got back he heard the news, not so much with joy but with a sense of having missed out on something.

So, a little hurt and a little petulantly he says, “I want to see, also.”

On the other hand, maybe Thomas is you and me. Doubting and believing at the same time; fumbling through our faith journey; needing to see before we can believe; needing to hang on to what we know is factual while others testify to a different truth.

Maybe we’re Thomas, looking for God in the silence. Or hiding from God behind those locked doors because of who and what we are. Guilty of denial and betrayal and running in the other direction. Ashamed and fearful that our “real” selves will become apparent to those around us. Maybe he needs to know that Jesus loves and cares for him despite his absence that particular day.

The Thomas in each of us needs so much assurance. We need to hear Jesus’ words to his disciples and a week later to Thomas: “Peace be with you.”

Peace be with you. Not despite who we are, but because of who we are. Peace be with you, because we are God’s creation and he doesn’t make junk. Peace be with you, even though we mess up and get it wrong and then hide from God behind locked doors.

Peace. Not simply an absence of conflict, but God’s shalom. God’s shalom connects us one to another; it’s harmony and completeness. It’s a sense of wholeness. Which only comes from God.

In Jesus’ blessing of peace, he offered forgiveness. No chiding or rebuke or punishment. He forgave them and then breathed on them the greatest gift of all: The Holy Spirit. He solemnly commissions them to go out and do what he taught them to do.

But there’s one more thing he has to say. He gazes on Thomas and says, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” And then he turns and looks at you and at me and speaks again, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

If Thomas is you and I, then maybe we are a bit overly cautious at times. And perhaps at times we find in ourselves the cynic and the skeptic. Or we wonder what we can do to feel part of the inner circle. And, at times, we hide behind locked doors and fail to “see” what others call truth.

But, we are God’s creation and we belong to our Lord who breathed the Holy Spirit on us and tells us, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

Don’t worry that you’re not perfect or smart enough or handsome enough. Don’t worry that you’re not enough of anything or that you’re too much of something else. That’s Jesus' job.

So, my friends, I repeat his words to you now:

"Peace be with you.

"As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

"Receive the Holy Spirit."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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