The Incredulity of Thomas, Carravagio (1571-1610)
John 20:19-20…24-29 — On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord…
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
For some reason, Thomas was not with the rest of the disciples on the evening of that first Easter Sunday. Therefore, he would have had to believe without seeing, and he would not. Thomas was doubting the firm declarations of his ten best friends, the women who had been to the tomb, and the testimony of the two men with whom Jesus walked and talked on the road to Emmaus. Thomas demanded proof he could see, not just the eyewitness report of someone else, no matter who it was. Thomas saw Jesus dead, he knew he was dead, and he knew that dead people do not rise. So he said, “Unless I SEE the nail marks in his hands, and unless I PUT MY FINGERS where the nails were, and unless I put my hand INTO HIS SIDE, I will not believe it.”
Because of his doubt, Thomas has been the object of some criticism and scorn over the years. But really, when it comes to matters of faith one should have not only an open mind and a trusting spirit, but also a questioning mind and even a bit of suspicion. There have been all sorts of religious scams, false prophets, and heresies over the years, and the present age is no exception. So it is a good idea to not believe everything you hear. Thomas could have probably put a little more trust in the consistent testimony of every one of his best friends, but we must not fault him for wanting to get all the information he could. Perhaps instead of Doubting Thomas, he could have been called Cautious Thomas, or, Practical Thomas. One should look into these things as much as possible before stepping out in faith; just as Thomas did.
But eventually, one must step out in faith. Knowledge and facts will get you only so far. Thomas had lots of facts. Jesus had died. That was a fact. Jesus was in the tomb. That was a fact. And dead people don’t come back to life. That was an established fact. But the facts Thomas had ended at the grave, and that was not far enough this time.
Faith can move us beyond facts that we can see and experience to even greater facts. On Easter Sunday, God decided to change the facts of life. Those who had the faith to be open to something more than the usual facts were about to see and receive something entirely new. God, who had created life in the first place, was revealing in Jesus Christ the new fact that he could and would raise the dead. And if proof was what Thomas wanted, he was about to receive it.
One week later the disciples were again behind locked doors, and this time Thomas was with them. As on the previous Sunday evening, Jesus was suddenly in the room with them. Jesus again said to them all, “Peace be with you,” and then immediately turned to Thomas. Jesus did not rebuke Thomas, but gently offered him the very proof he had been asking for. “Here Thomas,” he said, “here are my hands; put your finger right into the wounds. And you wanted to put you hand into the wound in my side. Go ahead. Now, stop doubting and believe.”
The Bible does not tell us if Thomas actually reached out to touch Jesus wounds, or if the mere presence and words of Jesus were enough to convince him; but either way, he said, “My Lord and my God!”
This gentle and understanding way of Jesus with Thomas should create an environment in the church where questions are encouraged and not discouraged, and where doubt is responded to not with criticism, but viewed as an opportunity for growth in faith.
Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. –Frederick Buechner
Faith given back to us after a night of doubt is a stronger thing, and far more valuable to us than faith that has never been tested.
–Elizabeth Goudge, English writer
Lord, I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.