Thomas, that disciple of Jesus infamous for his capacity for doubt, had one of those days when he missed that meeting where the resurrected Jesus showed up. Who knows what he was up to that caused him to miss one of the greatest episodes in human history?
And now, as the others chatter endlessly about the awesome experience that they had, Thomas stoically assumes a posture not unlike that of a Victor Meldrew. Muttering, “I don’t believe it,” he insists that unless he can be convinced that Jesus really is alive, by sticking his fingers into his wounds, then unbelief is the barren place where he is going to park. Thus the Christian Church, always quick on the draw with the labelling machine, has dubbed him ‘doubting Thomas’, which I think is a tad unfair. He certainly did doubt – Jesus gently rebuked him for it – but he was also a brave man, who had shown willingness to die with Jesus if necessary.
Because of his doubting, Thomas is unlikely to be a winner in an “I’m a Disciple…Get Me Out of Here!” popularity contest. Peter usually wins hands down. The water-walking fisherman (whose sprint across the surf was terminated by a bolt of fear) is someone we can so easily associate with. I sometimes picture him hopscotching behind Jesus on one foot, because so often he had the other foot in his mouth. James and John might be favourites with the more macho types who like action thrillers, seeing as they showed an indecent enthusiasm for nuking an entire Samaritan village. Andrew might be a favorite of some but I find him slightly irritating, with his gift of stating the patently obvious. Sharing the insight that a lunch of five loaves and two fishes would not go far in feeding 5,000 chaps (plus women and children) is a prime example. But strange though it seems, I’d like to give a shout out for Thomas as an unlikely hero.
And the reason is this. For Thomas, one of those days turned into one of those weeks. The excited chatter between those who had seen Jesus must have been tortuous. He had no promise that Jesus would ever appear again in a similar fashion. He may well have missed the meeting of his life. A whole week went by.
But then Jesus arrived again, and this time Thomas was there. Still showing up, his doubts unresolved, his insecurities lingering, he was there. And for that reason, he is wonderful inspiration. Woody Allen famously said that 80 per cent of success is showing up, and Thomas did. I don’t think we give him enough credit for doing so. Thomas is surely the patron saint of those who are steering through the seasons when faith seems ludicrous, but still show up regardless.
Sometimes Christians go through wilderness seasons of doubt, and distance themselves from their churches. Surely, they reason, it’s better to stay away. And that’s wrong. Fellowship can give us a source of strength when the going gets tough.
Thomas ended bravely, apparently martyred by spears at the command of an Indian king. His willingness to die for Jesus was no hollow promise.
So hooray for Thomas. And if you’re trusting God and still clinging to Christian community through one of those days, weeks or even, God love you, one of those years, then a sincere, heartfelt hooray for you too.