2nd Sunday of Easter

April 11, 2021


Being and Doing 

27 Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place  it in my side. Do not disbelieve, 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 believed.” (John 20:27-29 ESV) 

The story this Sunday revolves particularly around Jesus and Thomas. We know it well and the description  of Thomas has gone into our lexicon – ‘doubting Thomas’.  

We have Thomas and his behaviour – his doubting. He is imprisoned by his reason it seems. He is the victim  here of being rational. That is how I think many people think about the situation.  

Bible translations present Jesus’ instruction in various ways … 

Stop doubting and believe (NIV) 

Do not disbelieve but believe (ESV) 

Stop doubting and have faith (CEV) 

Stop your doubting and believe (GNB) 

Don’t give in to your doubts any longer, just believe (TPT – The Passion Translation) Do not be unbelieving anymore but believe (The New Jerusalem Bible) 

I am no Greek scholar but my translation of this section is ‘Do not be / become faithless but [be / become]  faithful’. You see, I think, Jesus is addressing Thomas as a person more than his behaviour. And so the KJV gets my nod with ‘Be not faithless but believing’. 

What does it mean to have faith? In the Old Testament faith was in the words of the story of the rescue – of  God’s rescue in the Exodus – of the message of the prophets and priests about God – and faith was evident in  how one behaved (especially as a group) – there is a trust and obey quality here.  

When Jesus came along, he is the Word of God and so the rescue is personalised because there is a specific  rescuer and thus the relationship becomes more intense and there is now an added or deeper dimension as people are aware of the landscape between what is inside our heads/ hearts and our behaviour. We can  behave religiously but not trust or rely on Jesus. We can say we trust and rely on Jesus but not behave as if  we do. Neither the internal (belief or trust) or the external (how we behave) can be guarantees of reality  anymore – but everyone agrees that there needs to be congruence between internal and external.  

If this was any other issue to do with personal identity, mental health, behaviours, psychology what the goal  would be is some form of integration between what is going on inside of us and how we behave on the  outside. Jesus has the same goal – that we – and whether you think of yourself as body and soul, or body,  mind, and spirit or in psychological terms eg. id, ego, and superego or in any other terms – Jesus’ goal is that  we live and live well free from ignorance, guilt, burdens, fear, shame – and so people discover that they have  to react to Jesus – not to create a relationship but to respond to him and what he says and what he has done  and also the fact that he isn’t going away. 

And that’s the situation each person deals with – meeting or hearing about Jesus, engaging with him in some  way, relating to him all on the inside – and then there is our response – do we rely on who Jesus is and what  Jesus has done or not? – the ‘outside’ stuff. 

And Thomas is often portrayed as doubting, struggling, coping with the impossible but he just couldn’t. ‘It is  impossible to believe the impossible’, we say. And there is value in saying that if we don’t want to trust or  rely on Jesus as well. I’m not saying that trusting or relying on something seemingly impossible is easy – there have to be reasons why the impossible might be considered possible – what I am saying is that we can  stubbornly stick to our views – even if we are proved wrong or we sense we are on the ‘wrong side’ of  reality – and we can resist the truth, we can push away trusting, and we can resolutely refuse to rely on 

something or someone because that is our choice. We know people like this. We know it in ourselves. And I  think that is more Thomas than we often are prepared to admit. 

Do not be faithless but faithful. 

My version of Thomas is that I don’t know why Thomas made his macabre proof test and yes, the  impossibility of what the disciples were saying is a genuine factor here but we are talking about Thomas, the  guy who had the courage to get the others to go with Jesus to raise Lazarus and back into the lion’s den of  Jerusalem where something bad was going to happen – Thomas expected them to die (John 11:16). He was  there at Lazarus’ raising. He had been with Jesus for a long time – heard him teach, heard Jesus make claims  that only make sense if Jesus is God, experienced miracles from this Jesus – healings, exorcisms, and telling  the storm to ‘shut up’ as if it was a yapping dog – and I, personally, do find it hard to think he now says that  Jesus raised to life again is absolutely impossible. To my way of thinking, he’s got to have a niggle that Jesus  is alive and I wonder whether maybe more so, he is disappointed that he didn’t see Jesus. So he chooses to be this way, to make his stand – his unbelieving stand, his faithless position, and he is now sticking to it. 

In my version of what has happened there is a missing week and I simply don’t conceive of the other ten  disciples saying nothing during the week. ‘Leave, Thomas, he’s made up his mind and there’s nothing we  can do because faith is a gift and he hasn’t received it!’ Again, I imagine the disciples talking to him – pointing out what Jesus had said, what Jesus had done that Thomas couldn’t reject, and I imagine they also  talk about their integrity – that Thomas knows them and they’re not lying to him – and so for a week, we  have Thomas still doubting or saying he is sticking to his guns – fingers in holes, hands in sides – but on the  inside, I wonder what is going on with him?! I don’t know of course. 

Jesus gets straight to the point when he appears and challenges Thomas. Now comes the weird part for me.  Why does Thomas believe? You see I don’t think it is because Thomas sees Jesus – because Thomas could  have claimed someone spiked his drink, it was an hallucination, I don’t know what else – but instead he  makes the confession that has been percolating in him for the week, ‘My Lord and my God’ because the  words had created faith and Thomas stopped resisting.  

Why do people say that something is untrue or unreliable? There are many reasons – and sometimes the  reason is that it is untrue or it is unreliable – but not all the time! Some of the reasons people make the claims  of untrue or unreliable are because it meets their needs, their pride, their agenda. People who go down rabbit  holes of conspiracies who might believe in secret world orders, global abuse of children, aliens, whatever all  have reasons why they believe and reasons why the argumentation used to counter them is wrong. No one  believes or not believes in a vacuum. 

I think Jesus’ reply to Thomas has a gentle rebuke in it – that’s how I’d direct the stage or film version of this  scene for when Jesus says, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me?’ Brackets [you didn’t have to see  me to believe – and you know it deep down] – which is why the next part makes sense to me, because I  haven’t seen Jesus and like Thomas, yes, it’d be nice to do, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet  have believed’. And that’s me – and you – who for all our personal experiences and reasons why we believe  or have faith knowing that living our life – struggling to do so, we’ve never perfect at this – but relying on  Jesus, trusting Jesus because he is faithful and gracious and kind and with us – with Jesus is called ‘blessed’  not because of our effort but because our truth is that God in Jesus loves us. 

This means that believing, having faith, trusting, relying on Jesus can have the ‘leap in the dark’ quality,  accepting the impossible is possible quality but it also has the stopping being stubborn dimension, the  swallowing of pride aspect, and honest reflecting on what we say here. ‘I’d love to have faith and the story of  Jesus to be true’ or versions of this have been said when I’ve asked ‘What’s stopping you from saying it is  true and from trusting Jesus?’ I invariably get the answer ‘I don’t know’. Well, we should know why we do  and think and say and believe the things we do and think and say and believe! ‘I don’t know’ is an answer  but it isn’t a good one for living. 

The message of Jesus – his death and resurrection – his presence and promises are true – they are objectively  supported because the world has not been able to prove them untrue, untrustworthy, unreliable – and Jesus is  still standing there in front of Thomas no matter what he says and does. It’s the same for people today. The 

accounts of Jesus – the little tests and bargains that people make (often the so-called coincidences) – when  they present Jesus to us rather than focusing on what we have to do – have ways of drawing us to Jesus – that  he can be trusted, that he gives us hope, that he is solid, reliable, dependable, and probably best of all, that no  matter how we behave he is faithful to us. That’s what his cross proclaims all the time. 

Thomas didn’t fit Jesus into his world view. It was the other way round. Jesus crashed Thomas’ world view – as he still does time and time again to people who put up all sorts of reasons and obstacles for their keeping  Jesus at a distance – and yet Jesus is still standing in locked rooms and locked minds – he gets in – and  finally the best response is Thomas’ “My Lord and my God”.  

What happens next? Well, that’s between you and Jesus!

Bible References

  • John 20:27 - 29