Today is the day set aside by the Church to celebrate and commemorate the life, ministry and martyrdom of St. Thomas. Thomas is undoubtedly best known to everyone by the title history has bestowed on him, “Doubting Thomas.” It is not uncommon to use his name (perhaps in vain) when someone expresses doubt, by calling them a “Doubting Thomas.” I feel certain that of all the things that St. Thomas would like to have been remembers for, this would have been last on the list. Most of us do not want to be remembered for our follies.
Thomas also had heroic moments. In John, chapter 11 when Jesus expressed that he was going to Jerusalem. There were some who would have prevented him from going, because there were people in Jerusalem who wished to kill Jesus. It was Thomas who boldly said, “Let us go and die with him.” These are the words of a loyal friend, who was willing to die with Jesus. Later in life he demonstrated that loyalty when he died a martyr’s death in India. Christians in India trace their church back to their patron saint, Thomas.
There is no questioning his courage or loyalty to Jesus. It seems trivial to focus on the one instance of his doubt. In fact, I think of him not as a doubter, but as a practical person. After all, why should he have believed that Jesus was alive, when he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus had been crucified? Thomas had seen numerous people die. He knew the process: the person dies, the body is cleaned, and it is anointed with oils and spices, wrapped in a shroud and then buried. That has always been the end of the story. Why should he believe otherwise? If you had been in his place wouldn’t you have thought that their story strained credulity?
We who are the blessed ones, who have come to believe even though we have not seen, have the benefit of looking back at Thomas through the eyes of faith. As believers, we find it hard to comprehend that anyone could not believe. We often forget how incredible the story really is! There are however, dark nights of the soul when we too wrestle with doubts regarding our faith. It is at times like this that St. Thomas can become our patron saint. He is the patron saint of practical people, who occasionally get too caught up in what is considered the reality of this world.
If Thomas had been absolutely certain that Jesus had not risen, he would not have been in the room with the other disciples on the following Sunday. Despite his doubts, Thomas remained loyal and courageous. He remained with the other disciples. The following Sunday when he was greeted by Jesus, Thomas went from doubt to the greatest confession recorded in all of scripture, “My Lord, and my God!”
Times of doubt generally do lead to greater and stronger faith for us. What helps make those times more bearable for us is remaining within the fold. We will find that when we are with other believers, Jesus will often show up and greet us through them. It is in the community of faith, the body of Christ, that our faith will be strengthened to the point where we too can exclaim, “My Lord, and my God.
We close today with a poem by the Reverend Thomas Troger:
These things did Thomas hold for real:
the warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
the grain of wood, the heft of stone,
the last frail twitch of blood and bone.
His brittle certainties denied
that one could live when one had died,
until his fingers read like Braille
the markings of the spear and nail.
May we, O God, by grace believe
and, in believing, still receive
the Christ who held His raw palms out
and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.
(Thomas Troeger, 1984, Psalter/Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church)
The painting is titled, “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Rembrandt.