Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Colossians 1:3).
I am sure everyone has had instances when they have had their doubts about something. There are things or situations that are just too good to be true. And what do we tend to do when we have doubts about something? We usually either take one of two tracks. The one track is to just ignore the situation or thing we are doubting and then go on our merry way. I guess you can call this an I-don’t-care attitude. Or, we can go by way of the other track. And that other track is to look at the situation or thing of concern and get information to help us to make some kind of determination to hopefully resolve whatever doubts we may have.
In today’s gospel passage from John, we have Thomas taking that other track. And the passage involving Thomas is only found in John—it is not found in the other gospels. As noted in verse 24, Thomas was not present when Jesus made his first appearance to the disciples after his resurrection. Although he was told about the appearance, Thomas is seen in verse 25 saying that he will not believe that Jesus appeared unless he sees Jesus himself with the wounds he now bears from the crucifixion. It’s evident that Thomas took the other track—seeing is believing and he definitely wanted to see the evidence.
Unfortunately, this is also where poor Thomas now takes the heat for his insistence on evidence and goes down in history being labeled “doubting Thomas.” This is a rather unflattering label, too, because it insinuates that Thomas was lacking in his faith. Even though his fellow disciples had told Thomas that they had seen Jesus in addition to Thomas himself along with the other disciples being told on more than one occasion by Jesus before the crucifixion that he would defeat death, Thomas nevertheless was dead set on seeing evidence. And over the centuries, that unflattering label, doubting Thomas, has become a relatively common idiom in the English language. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a doubting Thomas as “someone who rarely trusts or believes things before having proof” and a secondary definition is simply “a doubtful or skeptical person.” I would not be surprised if it should ever be proven that most people, especially those who are un-churched or just possibly not familiar with the passage in John, would not realize the doubting Thomas idiom originated from the Bible. Poor Thomas! His reputation as a skeptic has been sealed in history and in language!
But then, was Thomas really being doubtful or skeptical? One of my professors at seminary, Rev. Dr. Richard Carlson, a New Testament and Biblical Greek scholar, made an important point in his commentary that sheds a different light on Thomas and actually, in my view, vindicates him from his doubting Thomas reputation. Carlson points out that in the Biblical Greek sources of John, the word doubt never appears in chapter 20. Carlson goes on to claim that the well-known and highly respected translations given in the New Revised Standard Version, the NSRV, which is what we use when we read the lectionary and is what is printed in your bulletins, as well as the translation in the New International Version, the NIV, actually are wrong. Both the NSRV and NIV translations have the word doubt, which is not in the Biblical Greek sources, at the end of verse 27 which reads Do not doubt but believe. The correct translation is Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe. And with this correct translation, it makes sense when Thomas responds by saying in verse 28: My Lord and my God! This was Thomas’ confession of faith that he truly does believe. What Carlson argues is that “Thomas is anything but doubting” and that “it is important to realize that the story is not about Thomas. Rather, the story is about varied responses to the reality of the resurrection.” In Thomas’ case, Thomas does not respond with doubt, but rather “with definite and emphatic conditions for believing.” Carlson, interestingly, concludes that Thomas really should not be labeled as “doubting Thomas,” but rather as “conditional Thomas.”
But let’s think about it a little more by putting ourselves into Thomas’ position a little over 2,000 years ago. The concept of resurrection from the dead was really something that was out of this world and more than likely not really understood by the disciples until after the resurrection. Can we blame Thomas for demanding certain conditions of proof regarding Jesus defeating death? On the other hand, we as Christians today are well aware of the resurrection of Jesus and know that Jesus was sent to us to cleanse us of our sins. Humanity has been hearing and reading the scripture passages for centuries. But despite this, how many of us are like Thomas and want concrete evidence to substantiate our faith or to make us truly believe? Although Thomas did get his concrete evidence, we today primarily rely on eyewitness accounts that have been noted in the scriptures, historical records, our faith, as well as Jesus’ own words as recorded in the gospels. Keep in mind that Jesus himself says as noted in verse 29 that Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
But do we do have the opportunity to see evidence as a way to further enhance our faith. Yes, we do. And we are doing it right now, here at St. Peter’s, through worship, which is the center of our life of faith. Through God’s word, water, bread and prayer we are nurtured in faith and sent out into the world. Worship unites us and helps us grow in faith. But where do we see Jesus? Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the Father—we say this every Sunday when we profess our faith during worship. Does this mean Jesus is not here in our midst? No, it does not mean that. Matthew 18:20 says: For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. As you can see, there is more than one person in this sanctuary gathered in the name of Jesus. Our beloved Lord and Savior, Jesus, as he was quoted in Matthew, is here, now, among us. The Triune God is present here through Word and Sacrament—the means of grace—and Jesus is present through the Holy Spirit. We may not look for Jesus to appear before us like he did to the disciples and others shortly after his resurrection, but we can see him through the Word. Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are all revealed in the Word and it is through the Word that we can see Christ. We also see Jesus through Holy Communion where the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. Yes, Jesus is here in the elements of Holy Communion. Remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus through Word and Sacrament during worship provides us with an encounter with God, who saves us through Christ. Yes, my friends, we can see Jesus here during worship.
We also look to see Jesus in our community of faith during worship and it is through worship that we express our love for God. To worship God is to honor God with love and submission. Delesslyn Kennebrew, in a Christianity Today article, wrote that “true worship is defined by the priority we place on who God is in our lives and where God is on our list of priorities.” She adds that “Our extravagant love and extreme submission to the Holy One flows out of the reality that God loved us first. It is highly appropriate to thank God for all the things he has done for us.” Yes, we can thank God anytime and anywhere. But it is through worship that we really show that extravagant love and submission that Kennebrew wrote about. I was not surprised that worshiping is one of the core values that St. Peter’s identified. Worship is so important. With this in mind, let’s challenge ourselves. Each Sunday that we are here at St. Peter’s to worship, let’s think about what connects us to God’s presence during worship? Where do we see God in our midst during worship? And let’s take what we find to reinforce our faith like Thomas did. And most of all, let us express our love to God for all that has been done for us whenever we worship. Amen.