…and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…
The disciples were afraid that those who had killed Jesus were possibly on a campaign to find, arrest and execute Jesus’ followers.
So they locked themselves away. In the midst of this fear, Jesus comes and says, Peace be with you.
Clearly the disciples were afraid. But it is also probable they were angry, angry because Jesus was dead. Jesus’ greeting is a response to this emotional situation. His greeting is also a lesson for them in how they can respond to what happened. Jesus does not respond with hostility or with expressions of vengeance for those who had killed him; rather his first response is peace.
Then he follows this greeting with a command.
…As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
The sending of the disciples follows from the way the Father has sent Jesus on a mission of peace, love and reconciliation. The disciples are to extend this mission of peace and the extension of God’s love in the world.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is their empowerment.
The Spirit will give them the energy, inspiration and the power to undertake this new mission.
The Spirit is their authority.
Thomas wasn’t present the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples. He wants evidence. He’s not going to accept these fantastic stories as factual without seeing the evidence for himself.
When Jesus comes a week later and appears to the disciples, he talks to Thomas. The beginning is first his greeting
Peace be with you
His tone in addressing Thomas has no note of judgement or condemnation, but is rather a tone of understanding and compassion.
Put your finger here. See my side. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Don’t doubt, but believe.
Being known as the Doubter could quite easily have been anyone of a number of people immediately following the Crucifixion, or even you and me.
What would you have done, if you had been in Thomas’s place?
Just think about it!
This charismatic teacher who inspired you to follow him for three years, the man you fervently believed was going to deliver you from the tyranny of the Roman occupation, the man who promised you such a glorious future…was…DEAD… crucified, and worse, killed at the instigation of your own people.
Along with all your friends you have been hiding out, meeting in a house with the doors locked, terrified for your life. After all, if they can kill Jesus, you could be next. But then… returning to the house that day, the other disciples try to tell you they’ve seen Jesus alive. You know for sure you and your friends buried him in the tomb. How can he be alive? How can you believe it unless you see him for yourself? Just like the others have.
And in Thomas’ defence, Jesus’ other friends didn’t believe it either.
The women who went to anoint the body in the tomb did not believe it. Mark tells us,
…they fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid…
In Luke’s account,
…the women told all this to the eleven…But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them…
In John’s account, when the women tell the disciples that Jesus’ body has been removed from the tomb, they do not believe it. They immediately set out to see for themselves.
When Jesus appears to Mary in the garden, she does not recognise him, even when he asks her what is wrong. She had seen him crucified. She does not expect to see him alive. It is only when Jesus calls her name that she knows him.
Jesus said to her ‘Mary! She turned and said to him ‘Teacher”
Then Jesus appears to the disciples. Remember this?
…when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them, and said, ‘Peace be with you’. After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord….
Following Thomas’ encounter, Jesus shows himself again to the fishermen disciples by the Sea of Tiberius. Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John and others had been out fishing all night but had caught nothing. Just after daybreak Jesus approaches them and tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. And now they can’t haul the net in because there are so many fish! It is only then that Peter recognises Jesus. And again, only after they have been given a material sign.
So when Thomas says,
…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..
was he really reacting any differently to the other disciples? Or from what we might have done?
The disciples must have been filled with such despair. Not just because Jesus had been killed, but disappointed in themselves. In his darkest hour, they had deserted him, denied knowing him.
And they were terrified they would be found guilty by association and suffer the same fate as Jesus.
But then suddenly, somehow, into that room filled with despair and hopelessness, Jesus appears and stands there among them. They can hardly believe what they are seeing, so Jesus shows them the wounds in his hands and his side.
And then he shows them something even more incredible than his physical wounds. He shows them God’s amazing grace.
There are no recriminations. Jesus continues to love them without judgment.
- he didn’t convey disappointment in them
- he didn’t condemn them for their weakness and failure to stand up for him
- he didn’t ask them why they were hiding behind locked doors
- he didn’t say anything at all about their fears
All he said was, ‘Peace be with you’.
But Thomas was not with them when Jesus came. So, when the other disciples tell him, “We have seen the Lord,” he doesn’t believe them.
Thomas is mentioned previously on only two occasions in the New Testament.
The first mention comes earlier in John’s gospel, when Jesus decides to go back to Judea to the home of his dead friend, Lazarus. The disciples are understandably less than eager to return to the place where the people had tried to stone Jesus to death. But Jesus was determined to go and Thomas was the one disciple who was willing to follow his master.
…then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us go, that we may die with him. ..(John 11:16)
The second mention we find of Thomas is in John 14. This is the well-known,
…let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you may also be where I am. You know that way to the place where I am going.
And good old Thomas, doubting Thomas, asks the question that must have been on everyone’s mind.
…Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?
Obviously, Thomas wanted to go wherever Jesus was going – he was saying ‘I don’t know the way but I really want to follow’.
And in asking the question, Thomas brings about a reply that is at the heart of Christianity. Jesus tells him,
…I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
And now the third mention of Thomas, the one that gets him the name. As we have seen, when we look at the whole story, Thomas is not the only one who has doubts. But maybe he is the only one who expresses his doubts.
…a week later, the disciples were again in the house, and this time Thomas was with them.
…unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.
And Jesus says to him,
…put your finger here and see my hands; reach out your hand and put it in my side. Don’t doubt but believe.
And Thomas does believe.
Can we see this doubting aspect of Thomas, not so much as a negative, but more as a positive trait; as an inquiring mind that needed to see the truth to believe, but was more than willing to believe once he saw the truth. Can we see Thomas not so much as one who doubted, but someone who was afraid to trust.
When Jesus confronted him in that room, Thomas immediately responded,
…My Lord and my God!
I know at times we can all identify with Thomas. We have doubts and we want to know something for ourselves. No one’s word is good enough, we need to see for ourselves. Is this not having faith? Not so. What faith is greater; the one that never doubts, or the faith that doubts and questions and investigates – and believes.
Perhaps Thomas’ credibility is in his disbelief – demanding evidence.
…have you believed because you have seen me?
…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe
And all these hundreds of years later, people still believe. Our church is not at all like that early church. Our whole culture and society is not at all like theirs. But in every age, believers strive to be a ‘Christ-following community.
As we know, because we’ve read the rest of the story, something happened to those fearful disciples we have just been hearing about. Just a few weeks later, at Pentecost, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, they not only appeared out in the open, they spoke out boldly, proclaiming the risen Christ.
The context of this reading is that it is at the end of the gospel. It’s not the end of the gospel printed in our bibles (we also have a chapter 21), but there is a fair consensus among scholars that the first edition, so to speak, ends here.
Thomas makes his crowning confession of Jesus:
My Lord and My God
Jesus responds with,
Now you believe – now that you’ve seen! Blessed are those who have not seen, but who believe.
And carrying the verbal link, the final two verses declare, “The purpose of this book”
…now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.