I’ve a feeling that we would like Thomas! Today he’d probably be a Church Warden – and we’d call him Tom. Only his mother ever called him “Thomas”. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. You know where you stand with our Tom.
And we shouldn’t be at all surprised at what we see in today’s passage from John. Afterall, Tom is just being a bit more straightforward than all the others.
Breaking and entering
Jesus had first appeared to Mary Magdalene. She rushes back to tell the disciples. Do they say “That’s amazing Mary. We now believe Jesus is alive”? No, they don’t. Jesus has to get himself into a locked room for them to experience him at first hand.
Tom is elsewhere. When he comes back, the story repeats itself. Just as the rest of the disciples didn’t believe Mary, so Tom doesn’t believe what the other disciples are telling him. Jesus is risen. Yeah, right… Tom needs to experience it first-hand too.
And can any of us honestly say that we wouldn’t feel the same way? When we’re vulnerable and hurting and unsure and our world is upside down, like now, then we want certainties too, don’t we? We want to be 100% sure.
Still locked in
It’s hardly as if the other disciples are bouncing around, living as if they truly believe it. When Jesus comes back to see Tom a week later, the rest of them are still locked in that room. A week after Jesus first came to show his wounds, wish them peace and breathe his Holy Spirit, they’ve not moved on.
Perhaps they can’t make sense of it? I wonder if they’re scared – scared of Jesus! It’s one thing him performing miracles. But someone coming back from the dead is something else entirely. They’d let him down and he’d died – and now he was back! Just who was this – and what was he going to do to them? Whatever they were thinking and feeling, they found it hard to fully believe.
And that should be a great comfort to us. Because we can be like that too. He can send us out – but sometimes we don’t want to go either. We can be held back by fear or doubt, in our own equivalent of a locked room. But Jesus keeps on coming back, time and again. To show his wounds, wish us peace and breathe his Holy Spirit. Like with Tom, he doesn’t want any one of us to miss out.
And he’ll keep coming back because the rest of the world needs to hear about the gospel too. And we’re the people to communicate that good news.
My Lord and my God
Legend says that Tom went to India – and maybe we will also travel a long way. Or maybe it will be just to the man at the bus-stop or to the woman next door.
When Jesus does stand in front of Tom, we get that wonderful response: “My Lord and my God”. Short and to the point. Isn’t the whole of the Gospel contained in that one sentence from Tom? The creator of the universe in a personal relationship with us. We’re full circle to the start of the Gospel of John, to the Word made flesh, dwelling among us.
All our being
If you read through John, it’s as if he’s appealing to all our senses. The touch of Jesus washing feet; the taste of bread and wine; the sweet smell of perfume; the sheep hearing the shepherd’s voice. And here we have Tom wanting to see the wounds and, yes, to touch them too.
John seems to be saying that God wants our basic humanity, that which makes us what we are. He wants all of it and nothing less. Jesus is the resurrection – and the life. Belief in resurrection is fine – but it was Jesus’ life as well as his death that saves us. And it’s our life, our whole being, that’s wanted in response.
It’s Jesus’ great suffering and Jesus’ great love, held together at the same time, that brings us back to God. And each of us are wounded and resurrected at the same time too (1).
No more to be said
John originally chose to finish his Gospel with this story of Thomas. In the final verses of this chapter, John says: “Enough stories. We’re done now”.
I wonder why was it initially such a good place to stop. Is it because, like Tom, we need to experience Christ directly for ourselves?
Or perhaps it’s the admission that we’re fragile and frail, we question and doubt but, actually, that’s OK. Because he’ll keep on coming back until we’re ready.
Maybe it’s that once you’ve said “My Lord and my God” that there is no more that can be said.
Or is it that we too, like Jesus, are both wounded and carry God incarnate within us at the same time. And, that once we realise that, that’s all we need to know to help him save the world?
‘Our Tom’ was delivered on-line via Zoom, by Ian Banks, on Sunday 19th April 2020. This was to a mixture of congregations in the Bury, Heywood and Rochdale area. Hereafter called St Zooms! It’s based on John 20:19-31. For Margery’s take on Thomas in 2019, please follow this link.
- Richard Rohr – The Universal Christ, pages 111-112 and 147-148