Except for Thomas. Thomas doesn’t say much. But lots of people know one thing about Thomas—Thomas doubts, and that is bad.
But I have a lot of sympathy for Thomas. It is not like Thomas chose to reject Jesus. Thomas has not intentionally hardened his heart. Thomas is doing the best he can.
And Thomas was in a difficult situation.
Thomas and the other disciples always had a hard time wrapping their minds around exactly what it is that Jesus was here to do. Even when they entered Jerusalem on that last week, they hoped Jesus would establish God’s kingdom on earth right away. And so, they were all shocked at Jesus’ horrible death. Their hopes were dashed.
Not only that: they were in real danger. Jesus was executed as a traitor to Rome. The religious leadership of Israel remained on high alert, worried that the disciples might try to fake a resurrection. The apostles knew that they could be picked up at any time, so they all went into hiding.
Now the other ten were telling Thomas they had met the risen Lord. And we can be sure that Thomas ached to believe them, to believe that his beloved teacher was alive, that their hopes were alive. But Thomas simply couldn’t.
We have all been there, when the good news seemed too good to be true, when God’s victory over sin and evil and death seemed unreal, when our hopes for God’s kingdom of justice and peace and love seemed impossible.
In those moments, it is not helpful to be told that we should believe. The point is, we cannot. And that is cause for sympathy, not judgment.
I picture Thomas struggling to make sense of it all, struggling to figure out what he should do.
In that moment, Thomas does the best thing he can do. Thomas sticks with the other disciples. Jesus had promised, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt 18:20). So Thomas gathers with others in the name of Jesus, and he waits, and he hopes against hope that maybe, just maybe, he will in fact see his risen Lord.
And he does. Jesus comes. Jesus meets Thomas. Jesus gives Thomas what he needs.
And it probably would have been better for Thomas if he had not needed the extra help. But it is really good for us that he did. Because Thomas shows us that even apostles struggle sometimes, even apostles need a little help, even apostles have to grow into their faith.
But to really understand what is going on in our gospel reading, we have to look back at an earlier scene in the gospel.
At the Last Supper, Jesus warned his disciples that he was about to go to his Father’s house. But Jesus promises to return and, as he says, “take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” And, Jesus says, “you know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas was distraught. “Lord,” he says, “we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” You all know Jesus’ response, even if you don’t remember the context. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:1-7).
But I want to keep the focus on Thomas. Thomas wants to follow Jesus. But Thomas does not think he knows how. Thomas does not think he can do it.
But Jesus did. Jesus had more confidence in Thomas than Thomas had in himself. Jesus told Thomas, “You know the way. You know the way even though you think you do not. You know the way because you know me, and I am the way.”
That does not mean that Thomas understands everything. That does not mean that Thomas will always do right. But, despite his own fears, Thomas does in fact know the way of Christ. Thomas has more faith than he thinks. All Thomas needs to do is act on the faith he has, however limited it might seem, and he will grow into it.
That might sound strange. But it is pretty common.
At our Diocese’s Leadership Day a few weeks ago, the speaker, Mike Wagoner, led us through an exercise in which we drew a face with a partner. It was my second time to do this with Mike, so I was reasonably comfortable with the assignment at Leadership Day.
But the first time Mike asked me to do this, I was NOT comfortable!
I often joke about my singing and how bad it is. I am not any better at drawing. When I was a child, my friends and I used to draw battleships. After we finished, we would compare our product. And every time we all agreed that mine was the worst. After a few battleships, I decided that I would never draw again.
Now, more than forty years later, Mike was asking me to draw, and with a partner.
After the exercise, which I am proud to say I completed without any outward signs of panic, Mike asked our reaction when he gave us the assignment. I told him I was anxious because I can’t draw.
Mike responded that he would give us all a quick test—just one yes or no question—to see whether or not we could do art. He asked us, were you ever a child?
His point was simple. All of us, including me, could and did draw as children.
But then, as we aged, some of us lost confidence. We told ourselves that we couldn’t draw, and we quit doing it. Mike was saying that we can all draw. We all have the capacity somewhere deep down inside us. We just need to build it up.
Something similar is true for religious faith.
A lot of us don’t feel very good at faith. We think we aren’t good at praying, and we don’t like reading the Bible because we can’t understand it, and we sometimes have trouble believing, and we often have trouble loving. And that can tear us up. Especially if we think we have to act like we have it all together, that can be really hard. Some people give up.
That is why I love our gospel story. That is why I love Thomas.
Thomas does not have it all together. But Thomas is better at faith than he thinks. Thomas know the way better than he realizes. Thomas is poised to worship Christ and to confess that Jesus is his Lord and his God even when he says he cannot believe.
Thomas needs a little help to get there. But Thomas gets there.
And we often need a little help to get there. But we can get there too because we all have the capacity for faith buried somewhere inside us and just waiting for Christ to help us let it out.
The good news of Easter is that Christ is alive. Christ is with us. Christ shows us the way. Christ is the way.
And when we feel lost, our risen Lord says to us, “Peace.” Our risen Lord breathes on us, and gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And we grow, and we worship, and we follow the way, better than we thought we could, with God’s help.
Thanks be to God. In the name of our risen Lord. Amen.