A multi-dimensional Thomas

John 20:19-31 (Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9)

I have fond memories of Sunday school as a child.  Nice songs, interesting Bible stories, and I didn’t have to sit in worship with my family until the service was almost over!  Oh, and, my grandad always had a hard candy waiting for me.  (I’m smiling as I type these words – what a wonderful memory that is.)

And then, we grow up.  Yet the stories remain with us – which is awesome.  The problem of course is that as children we were given simplified, carefully selected (and sanitized) biblical stories.  The characters are one dimensional: David was a heroic king, Peter was a rock of faith, and Thomas was a doubter.  Little kids are not taught about David’s “romantic” life, nor his tendency to dispose of inconvenient husbands.  Kids are not exposed to the litany of Peter’s bloopers, where he time and time again gets the wrong end of the stick or fails to grasp Jesus’ meaning.  And Thomas is held up to kids as an example of what not to be – a doubter.  “Don’t be like Thomas!” is the Sunday school lesson.  

It’s time to put an end to such childish ways (as Paul would put it).  Thomas is multi-dimensional; just like us!  John’s gospel tells us so:

Courageous Thomas – faced with the prospect of returning to Judea (a place where Jesus only narrowly avoided being stoned to death) Thomas declares, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:6).

Confused Thomas – as Jesus prepares the disciples for the time when he would no longer be with them in the flesh, and tells them than he goes to prepare a place for them, Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

Confessing Thomas – in response to Jesus showing him his wounds, Thomas makes the most powerful, unambiguous statement of faith in all of the gospels, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Let me see too! Thomas – having missed Jesus’ first visit to the house in which the disciples were hiding, Thomas only asks to see what the other disciples have already seen – nothing more, nothing less.  “He showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20).  “Unless I see… I will not believe” (John 20:25).

Doubting Thomas?  It seems we all suffer from selective memory.  We don’t ridicule the disciples for hiding behind locked doors, do we?  In the other gospel accounts the guards have shown fear, and so too the women.  In John’s gospel the men are afraid also.  Afraid that the authorities will go after them just as they did Jesus?  Afraid that they’ll be accused of stealing the body?  Or, just suffering from emotional, physical and spiritual overload perhaps.  They’re only human after all.  And that’s precisely my point: biblical characters – in all their complexity – are very much like us!

Today, we sit behind locked doors in a potent cocktail of fear, confusion, boredom, isolation, disconnectedness, bewilderment, and mourning.  Yes, mourning all that we’ve lost these past few weeks; all that has been taken from us.  Contact, memories, experiences, goodbyes, friends… the list goes on.  Were we to look to the biblical characters of the Sunday school, we’d see only a plethora of people against whom we simply cannot measure up!  But look at the people whom God chooses, works through, and loves.  People like Thomas: courageous one minute, confused the next; desperately wanting to see (“me too!” he cries) then full of faith.  

There’s yet one more John 20/COVID-19 parallel to be examined a wee bit.  While most of us are sheltering behind locked doors, others are not.  In your mind, go back a few months, and create a list of those you then considered “essential workers.”  Now, compose today’s list of “essential workers.”  Did your first list contain grocery store clerks?  Pizza delivery persons?  What about bus drivers, shelf-stackers in pharmacies, delivery drivers, warehouse workers, taxi/Uber drivers…  These so-called “unskilled” workers join the list of more obvious “essential workers” such as doctors, nurses, law enforcement, first responders, and the like; all of whom leave their homes each day displaying courage in face of fear.  And here’s the thing… so too did Thomas!  All the disciples are hiding in fear, but Thomas isn’t among them.  Thomas was out and about, doing his thing.  That’s why he missed Jesus the first time around.   The rest were afraid and hidden, yet Thomas kept on living.  

In what is perhaps my first original thought in a very long time, I would propose that Thomas be assigned as the patron saint of COVID-19 essential workers.  The biggest doubter in history as out patron saint?  How insulting!  Ah, the sad limitations of a one-dimensional reading of Scripture.  There’s more to Thomas than meets the eye.  There’s more to us too.  We are the beloved of God, to whom Jesus says “Peace be with you (vs. 19, 26), and to whom John declares:  

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30- 31).