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St Columba's Crosspool

Open to God, Welcoming All

Honesty and doubt.

April 16, 2012

Today we are looking at Thomas, and he is a disciple we know about in John’s Gospel through what he says, rather than any actions.

What we say does tell a lot about who we are.

When I was young and unmarried, most of my social conversation with friends centred on girlfriends (possible and actual) and cars!

As a father and husband, my conversation was to do with paying the mortgage, coping with parenthood, dealing with in-laws etc.

Now, as a grandparent, a lot of discussion is about the grandchildren, and when we get together with other grandparents, it is THE topic of conversation!!! (And, of course, ours are the cutest, best behaved, most interesting etc…)

We were with my cousin recently who was talking about how wonderful her 2 grandchildren are. However, her granddaughter, who is 7, is remarkable in never admitting to being ill, even when she clearly is!! This is unusual in a child that age, and leads to a situation that the doctor cannot treat her when she is ill because she will not say what is wrong.

Linda was telling me recently that Paul and Claire have been teaching Josiah to cough. He has been under the weather but has not displayed obvious symptoms. At a visit to the doctor’s, the decision was that he seemed OK, nothing to worry about. As they were leaving, Jose coughed!! The doctor prescribed antibiotics!!!

Back to that thought later.

Thomas has 3 speaking parts of any significance in John’s gospel story.

Talking of parts or scripts…

One of the funniest sketches I remember hearing (I think it was Monty Python), was one where 2 actors are given a script to read which they had never seen or heard before…

‘You say either and I say either,
You say neither and I say neither,
Either, either, neither, neither,
Let’s call the whole thing off!
You like potato and I like potato,
You like tomato and I like tomato,
Potato, potato, tomato, tomato!
Let’s call the whole thing off!….’

Without the spoken word being actually heard, it does not make sense!

Back to Thomas. 2 comments he makes are in character with the ‘doubter’, one apparently isn’t.

When Jesus hears Lazarus has died, he tells the disciples that he will go to him. The disciples object as Lazarus home is near Jerusalem and Jesus has stirred up fierce opposition there, to the extent that it is felt his life would be at risk. The disciples object, but Thomas says, ‘Let us go as well, so we may die with him!’ Many commentators praise Thomas for this brave statement. Knowing Thomas’s cynicism elsewhere, I do wonder if we lose the spoken emphasis. Could he have been being sarcastic?…

‘Lazarus is dead, Jesus will die….Let’s all go and die too!!!’

Next up, after their last meal together, Jesus is explaining (again) to the disciples that he is to die (they still do not understand), and says in Ch 14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

In character, ‘Doubting’ Thomas is the one to say, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

So in the gospel passage we have read today, Thomas is not there when Jesus appears. When told of the story by many friends, a lot of people would have felt they could do nothing but agree and accept what is being said. Not Thomas. He is not swayed by peer pressure. He is not convinced, and so ‘Doubting’ Thomas is negative again. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later, the disciples are vindicated as Thomas is greeted by Jesus who invites him to “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Interesting to note the scars are still there. Jesus is real, not ghost-like. (Remember last week, we noted the risen Jesus eating with the disciples). Yet He ‘appears’ in a locked room. The story of His resurrection poses many puzzling questions, as does much of the Bible.

For many, to doubt as Thomas did is wrong and shows lack of faith. We should not doubt, but pull our selves together and get on with it!!

In Bible class when I was young, we sang a chorus…

“Why worry when you can pray?
Trust Jesus, He will lead the way.
Don’t be a Doubting Thomas;
Just take Him at His promise;
Why worry, worry, worry, worry
When you can pray?”

This worries me!

Some years ago I was preparing a sermon for a funeral and the passage chosen was from John 14 and included Jesus’ dialogue with Thomas. It struck me powerfully what the result of Thomas’s doubting question “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” was!

Of course, Jesus’ reply to this question is one of the most powerful statements He made…Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Thomas’s honest question enabled/unlocked this reply. How wonderful is that!

I love these insights into Thomas’s personality because it shows us a real person, with real doubts and real difficulty in understanding. I am sure that because he asked, he started to understand properly.

Jesus the loving shepherd is gracious and loving. He does not force Himself on us, or bully us. We need to ask. If we ask, he will answer, and maybe we will begin to understand.

I am also sure that our relationship with Him is ongoing. So when we hear the passage from 1 John… “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”, I think we sometimes understand that this is aimed at non-Christians who have not yet understood their sinfulness and the need for salvation – I am sure it is, but I am equally sure it continues to apply to us who are Christians. Our forgiveness is not a once and for all event in that sense. We will fail and get it wrong. Only if we talk to God about our problems, difficulties and lack of understanding will He respond. But what a powerful response we may receive.

He can only deal with forgiving our sin or responding to our doubts, if we acknowledge we have sinned, or tell him our doubts. Josiah could only get medicine for healing when he coughed! My niece could not receive medicine by her refusal to say anything was wrong.

I pray that, like Thomas, we will increasingly realise Jesus is OUR Lord and OUR God. To get to that place Thomas had to doubt, question and challenge Jesus. Let’s do that in our lives and we can then expect answers and a real relationship.

Let’s learn to be honest with God and our friends about our doubts, for only then will our faith be real and grow, along with our relationship with Jesus.

Like Jose, let’s learn to cough!

Steve Ellis, April 2012.