Feast of St. Thomas Apostle A
The Holy Gospel according to St. John the 14th chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (NRSV)
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Later in John’s gospel, “Thomas, one of the Twelve…is not with the other disciples when Jesus comes. So they tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas says to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Raw, painful human words straight from the lips of Thomas. He might as well tell it plain–“I will never believe, never be vulnerable, never risk, won’t be fooled again; no one rises from the dead.” He might as well say it, although by his journey with Jesus his eyes have seen otherwise, and his ears have heard otherwise, his heart has known otherwise.
Isn’t it so very easy to judge Thomas? Easy to gaze across 21 centuries at Thomas who didn’t take the others at their word? After all, they were there and they did see Jesus.
Were Jesus to stroll into Zion right now, would you believe that Jesus is risen, believe that Jesus is God? Would you believe such a man, waltzing into Zion Ev. Lutheran Church performing miracles, raising people from the dead, is the God of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Creator of heaven and earth? Does Jesus look like that Ancient God while praying in the Gethsemane, when hematidrosis forces Jesus into a bloody sweat? Does Jesus look like Almighty God when Jesus says he will die? Does Jesus look like the God who leads Ancient Israel from slavery into freedom as Jesus is led away, stripped, beaten, mocked? Does Jesus look like the God whose word settles stars and planets in their courses when Jesus hangs on the cross? Does Jesus seem the God who humbles nations when Jesus cries out, “I thirst.”
What would we believe were we standing there with Thomas then? Do we trust our Lord as Jesus speaks of a never-ending Kingdom? Do we unquestioningly embrace that Jesus will go away and return? Is Jesus truly resurrection and life?
Seriously, what do we believe? How do we believe? Wouldn’t it be far easier to gamble on a prize horse hoped to win the Kentucky Derby next May? Seems far less risky, doesn’t it? And right there’s the crux—it’s no gamble, no risk, nothing written in our stars, no foretold series of signs and portents, has nothing to do with a mystic prophecy about a scarred boy that lived—but it is about God—the timeless, ancient God, above, around, and permeating history, making huge promises and honoring them in the fullness of time; were it not God’s promises, not for Jesus’ resurrection, wouldn’t the lives of saints be meaningless? Wouldn’t the saints who have gathered before, and we the saints here gathered today, be a pitiable band suffocating in a reasoned life devoid of hope, with no promise of life, journeying here in this valley of the shadow of death. And therein stands Thomas one truly informed and shaped by Word alone—the very word of God flowing from the mouth of Jesus. The faith of Thomas has its source in Christ alone. What Thomas couldn’t, or wouldn’t believe, Jesus made believable, knowable.
Luther, writing on topics considered 400 years later in Sacrosanctum Concilio during Vatican II says, “…church festivals have been so arranged because all parts of the Gospel cannot be heard at once, and therefore its doctrine must be distinguished throughout the year.” So here we are distinguishing a Gospel message through Thomas, a message that says, authentic intimate relationship to Christ matters, that authentic intimate relationship to Christ presents the person of Christ–crucified, died, buried, and risen on third day from the dead—Jesus Christ. This Jesus shows up in our doubts and makes himself known to us without our invitation, meets us in the dead center of our living unbelief.
That’s the Gospel message offered through Thomas—that Jesus isn’t stalled by our unbelief, nor is Jesus propped up by our belief either. Jesus plays by a unique set of rules, doesn’t play by ours, in fact, isn’t even remotely curious about them. Jesus isn’t about fair, but Jesus is about risk. If it were a matter of fair, then Thomas would be bounced from the apostles like a cheap rubber ball. Jesus could’ve said, “I showed up. You weren’t there. You didn’t believe the ones who were there, stinks to be you; go on now—get to stepping. I am taking my resurrection and exiting stage right.” Yep—that’s the way it would go, were Jesus about “fair.” Instead Jesus is about risk, risk found in hanging out with sinning doubters, the seeing is believing crowd. Jesus is so unfair, so into risk, tells us of leaving ninety-nine sheep and heading off to find one, risks being chummy with the broken, the prostituting, the lame, any whose grief, shame, and pain has them by the throat. No, Jesus is not about “fair,” but he is about “risk,” risking a graced-filled encounter with a doubting and unbelieving Thomas.
“A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” There’s the solid declaration of Jesus the Christ—the promise or rest, the promise of peace—a promise rolling off lips that say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
Jesus continues, speaking to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
And Thomas cries out, “My Lord and My God.”
And we, what do we cry? What do we believe?
Skeptics would offer, “That Thomas was there, saw Jesus, could touch Jesus.” And Jesus says to Thomas on behalf of those skeptics, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus says this to Thomas but speaks it to us; for Thomas would not believe what others had seen, and through Thomas Jesus invites us to believe what Thomas has seen. It comes down to the riskiness of faith, for, “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not seen.” And so, you see. Faith gives you eyes to see, and ears to hear, and mouths to taste, and know that the Lord is risen and that the Lord is good. Jesus meets you through the word, and Jesus meets you in the Meal. Jesus comes to you through bread and wine, water and word. Through faith-made sacramental eyes and hands, you know, see, and touch a wounded side, place doubting fingers in nail prints, when forgiveness comes to you, by the words, “marked with the cross of Christ forever,” and, “given and shed for you.”
Doubts of Thomas open the way for Jesus to enter the doubts of you. Doubts of Thomas take him to India where the Church worships now, as it has since A.D 52. Isn’t it amazing what doubting faith will do? Perhaps it would be far easier to gamble on a prize horse hoped to win the Kentucky Derby next May, eh? But there’s a far better wager to be made, a wager on Jesus, a gamble on grace—and from such gambles the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is made. Not one apostolic stone of it is founded on “fair,” but every single risking living stone of it is founded on doubting faith.