While we might not say this out loud, most of us often regard Bible stories as we would history. Of course in some ways they are but they are so much more; yet, it’s not always easy to see them as connecting to our real lives in a tangible way. Let’s face it, the stories are just odd enough, just unusual enough, and just foreign enough to our day-to-day experience that we don’t pretend to understand them let alone feel confident at connecting them to our daily lives. Moreover, because we have read these familiar accounts year in and year out, we tend to see them in the same way. It’s not that we’re unwilling to take a fresh look but our preconceived impressions, influenced by so many who have interpreted their meanings for us, direct us to view them through a familiar prism.
OK, so once again it’s time to read the story of “Doubting Thomas” (John 20:19-31). I suppose it might be helpful to keep in mind that the Gospel writers themselves did not think that they were telling stories about events that happened in the past. Rather, they were reporting to new audiences what they believed were current revolutionary events and claims that they knew would shape the immediate present and future of everyone who read or heard them. So while John could have shared many other stories about Jesus to make his point, he chose this particular story because he hoped that everyone who heard it would know that Jesus is the messiah, the savior of the world.
John, as he did then, is inviting us into the scene involving Jesus’ encounter with Thomas at this very moment, here, now and today…to make this our story. So, as you re-read the all-to-familiar Gospel, I invite you to walk away from it and let it marinate. If you choose to come back, where do you see yourself in the scene? Near the end of this story, immediately after Jesus has shown his wounds to Thomas, and Thomas, in turn, professes the great confession of John’s Gospel, My Lord and My God, Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
I admit; I saw myself as Thomas. And sadly, for most of my life I had assumed that Jesus was rebuking Thomas, which frankly always struck me as a little harsh, since Thomas only asked for what everyone else had seen and received. (I can still hear my father saying, don’t ask why, just do it.) However, a few short years ago, in preparing for Bible Study, it occurred to me that this might be another one of those lessons that invite us to realize that we are already standing smack dab in the middle of the encounter. I mean, think about it: who are those who have believed without seeing Jesus? Well, likely some were the members of John’s community for whom he wrote. But guess what – we’re included in that group, too. We, also, have believed and struggle to continue believing without ever seeing with our eyes, or touching with our hands. And so now I think it’s not so much that Jesus is rebuking Thomas as he is blessing us. What a relief it was to realize that Jesus was not only cutting me some slack for being a “doubter” too, but was assuring me that this never-ending encounter with him continues every day of our lives and, will until the end of time. We are all characters in John 20:19-31, and are invited to learn from the faith and fear, courage and mistakes of those mere mortals who have come before. But now we are the ones who are invited to share Thomas’ confession as part of God’s plan as we proclaim My Lord and My God.