I always feel a bit sad about Thomas. Not because I have trouble with doubt, although I undoubtedly do, but because poor Thomas has been squeezed into a stereotype over one moment.
One moment when he was the disciple who wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to them. Who’s to say that the others would not have been exactly the same if the reverse had happened?
And the only other point we really hear from Thomas is when he proclaims, Peter-style, an utter determination to follow Jesus. Jesus has just heard of the illness of Lazarus…
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Now, you could note that actually, when it came to Gethsemane, Thomas fled like all the rest. Just like Peter. Just like John. Just like all of them. But still – he made the declaration where the others didn’t. They could have stayed behind, out of danger, but Thomas told them otherwise.
Thomas loved Jesus. And perhaps that love dictated his “doubt”.
I won’t believe it. If Thomas had so passionately loved his Lord, dare he believe he was risen from the dead? He needed to see him. He needed to touch him. And Jesus, in his mercy, allowed Thomas just that. It seems less like doubt to me than a stubborn unwillingness to believe – a stubbornness coming from all that love, grief and guilt that they all must have felt after they deserted the one they’d sworn to follow.
Jesus presented himself to Thomas, showing him that he knew what he needed,. And Thomas followed this with the greatest declaration of all: My Lord and My God! And yes, Jesus gently chides him… blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe, taking the moment to say something else. But Jesus does not hold himself back from Thomas. He meets him as he met the others, in a tangible, compassionate way.
If Peter, who denied Jesus, is allowed redemption in our stories, why isn’t Thomas? And what about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? They were confused about the reports of the risen Jesus but they didn’t seem to “believe” it, until confronted with Jesus himself, breaking the bread in front of their eyes, and breaking through their unbelief.
Let’s stop doubting Thomas, shall we? He’s been stuffed into a stereotype long enough.