Doubting Disciples

On Monday night at the Canterbury House, we tackled this week’s Gospel lesson from John, affectionately known as the story of “Doubting Thomas“(John 20:19-29). We approached this story through the practice of Lectio Divina, and discovered new insights that we had previously not recognized or not considered.

The first part that jumped out to me in this lesson comes before Thomas’ education, as the disciples (sans Thomas) have gathered behind locked doors for fear of persecution, when Jesus comes among them declaring “Peace be with you!”(John 20:19). Then Jesus, to prove his identity, shows the disciples his hands and side, and only then were the disciples said to be “overjoyed when they saw the Lord”(John 20:20).

Thomas, unfortunately, was not present for this joyous moment, which included an imposition of the Holy Spirit on those gathered. When he returns to the group and they tell this fantastical story of seeing the Lord, Thomas is incredulous. He also wants to see the nail marks and the stab wound in Jesus’ side. He wants the tangible evidence that his brethren have received.

It’s important to note where Thomas is coming from at this point in the story. His whole world has been shattered by the recent death of his close personal friend, savior, Lord, and teacher. The disciples as a whole have not accepted the death of Jesus, let alone the resurrection, as evidenced by their fear of the Jewish leaders, staying only behind locked doors in inconspicuous hide-aways. Thomas’ reaction to the disciples is a truly level-headed reaction to what he can only assume is a fantastical tale, perhaps motivated out of their fear, that his fellow disciples have shared with him. For the disciples themselves only truly believed it was Jesus upon examining his hands and side, so Thomas is for all intents and purposes just asking for the proof that they themselves received. If anything, this story should be called the “Doubting Disciples“.

Jesus makes another triumphant return a week following, when the disciples including Thomas, have all gathered once more. Again, Jesus opens with the line “Peace be with you!”(John 20:26). This message of peace is important to hold onto when listening to the message that Jesus shares, as it creates the setting and mood from which Jesus is approaching the disciples and Thomas in particular. Before Thomas even has a chance to say anything (as he was probably dumbstruck at the moment), Jesus takes the initiative, again offering his hands and side as proof of his existence, saying “Stop doubting and believe”(John 20:27). Thomas instantly knows this is Jesus and declares him Lord and God, but he is forever linked to the previous line.

I feel that Jesus is not directing this message only at Thomas (as Jesus rarely if ever intended his lessons to only apply to one person), but to the gathered disciples, as well as those that would come to hear his story. Today, we are those that doubt, and Jesus addresses us in the closing line stating “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”(John 20:29). Thomas and the disciples have the luxury of seeing Jesus and “Because you have seen me, you have believed”(John 20:29), but we do not get that opportunity. What we have as evidence is the (easily relatable) story of Thomas, and the challenge laid out by Jesus to all that we must “Stop doubting and believe”(John 20:27). When we believe, without that hard evidence, Jesus states that we are blessed, because it is only through this type of belief do we truly show faith.

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