Sheesh. Poor Thomas. Saddled forever with “Doubting”as his first name. Except Thomas doesn’t exactly doubt the disciples’ report that they have seen the Lord. He just doesn’t trust them – he finds them lacking . . . sanity, perhaps? And who can blame Thomas and his mistrust of the other disciples? Taken as a group, the disciples just aren’t all that credible – you know, they haven’t exactly conducted themselves in the most trustworthy manner. Just look at Peter – who swore up and down, side to side, and back again that he would never, ever deny Jesus – but he did, and three times. What a hypocrite. Why not call him Hypocrite Peter? And the rest of the boyz – except for possibly one – they made themselves conspicuous by their absence on Calvary beneath Jesus’ cross – only a handful of some women seem to have stayed with Jesus throughout his whole ghastly ordeal. No, when the going got tough, the disciples got going – as far away as could be. And even after the women had told the boyz that Jesus was risen, they stayed hiding behind locked doors – supposedly for fear of the Judeans – though more likely for fear of one particular Judean, the one born in Bethlehem of Judea – who if indeed risen had truly risen from the dead would be more than likely than not to cheerfully blast them all to bits — you don’t go treating the Christ of God as the disciples had and get by with anything less than some almighty whoopin’, and some cosmic come-uppance. So of course Thomas didn’t trust that the fickle, cowardly, hypocritical disciples had seen the Lord and somehow survived to tell about it. Sheesh.
… their chief, perhaps only work was to go out and forgive, go out and proclaim the loving heart of the Father, go out and forgive even the most ungodly.
And all the more NOT credible was what this putatively risen Lord had supposedly said to those hypocrites – proof that their whole “we have seen the Lord” thing was not trustworthy – this person had greeted those fickle and feckless disciples with, “Shalom, peace be with you.” The word of forgiveness, the word — if truly spoken — meant the Lord forgiving the actions of the disciples, actions which had been, quite frankly, unforgivable. And this word of peace without them even saying so much as they were sorry. No vows of repentance – no penance – no “go say ten Our Fathers, ten Hail Marys, and ten Glory Bes.” No purgatory, no thousand hours of public service. Nothing. Nada. Bubkus. And then that the Lord would tell them that their work was not to go out and overthrow the old order (so much for liberation theology), was not to go out and seek vengeance against those who had wrongly convicted and killed Jesus – but that their chief, perhaps only work was to go out and forgive, go out and proclaim the loving heart of the Father, go out and forgive even the most ungodly? Not credible. No, unthinkable that the crucified Lord, if risen would, be about peace – he would be all about bearing the flaming sword of vengeance. No, Thomas did not trust this cockamamie story lying on the lips of a bunch of spineless disciples who had proven themselves to be thoroughly untrustworthy. No, he would have to see it himself – “this so-called risen one is going to have to let me actually see and touch the mark of the nails in his hands and touch the gash made by the spear before I’m going to trust that this is anything but B.S.”
But then – it happened and this time with Thomas in their midst. It being nothing less than the peace-filled word of forgiveness from the one still bloodied from the cross. This was the One whom they had deserted, and Thomas doesn’t even need to do anything – didn’t really need to touch the nail holes, didn’t really need to place his hand is Jesus’ wounded side! “My Lord and my God!” exclaims Thomas-filled-with-faith and likely to his own chagrin.
So why do we keep on calling him Doubting Thomas – when he became Thomas-filled-with-faith? For one thing, a doubting Thomas is, much more – well – believable, much more like us. Thomas himself is much more credible to us normal people when he is being someone who doubts, as someone who finds not credible all that peace and forgiveness stuff – it’s much more . . . natural . . . . to disbelieve that God in human form would suffer and die to manifest God’s peace with the whole world, that God’s work on earth would be to proclaim God’s peace with the world precisely to those who would kill this gentle, loving Jesus – that whole script is just so . . . un-muscular, unmasculine, and ungodlike. Jesus as divine do-gooder is believable, but all this cross, forgiveness, resurrection, and even more forgiveness stuff for the unreliable and untrustworthy? Must we? And of course it’s made all the worse by Christ’s command that the primary work of Christ’s disciples, the Church that is filled with Holy Breath, Holy Spirit, it’s so offensive that the primary work of that Church shall be to announce the forgiveness of sin in the name of the One whom we crucify with our daily devotions to our own notions of how the world ought to be – and “forgiving and forgetting” is definitely not primary among our notions and daily devotions – or if forgiven, not without our getting our own licks in first, not without some good old-fashioned, finger-pointing humiliation or at least a groveling admission of wrong-doing first. That’s sensible. That’s believable. That’s the way of the world.
And it’s also more . . . comfortable. How discomfiting to come to Church and have to hear that God not only forgives but that God’s idea of forgiving includes forgetting. (“I can forgive but I’m not going to forget,” that’s how it’s supposed to be, right?) And though I may like to be forgiven, I definitely do not want to see the rest of the hypocrites forgiven – I don’t want to see the people I just can stand be forgiven. And for free. I would rather stay home and hold on to my bitterness and my grudges. I would rather stay home and stay angry and hurt and disappointed – like Thomas did that first week when Jesus came breathed peace on those other disciples, the cowards, the ones who didn’t really know what true discipleship is all about. I prefer a doubting Thomas. So much more natural.
Yes, I prefer to stay away from the place where I have to hear about one baptism being the visible word that all the sins of my neighbor are already and always forgiven. If I’m going to church, I would rather hear the thunder of a pastor berating people for not doing the things they’re supposed to do. And this weekly Eucharist stuff – and hearing over and over and over that this is the body and blood of the God who would rather die than condemn – you get too much of that and . . . well, doubting Thomas is going to die – and a Thomas of faith, is going to rise – and without our striving, without our works, without God demanding a pound of our flesh – and that is simply . . . incredible. Yes. Simply. Incredible.
Oh My Lord and My God! Incredible!