A sermon, based on John 20.19-31, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019
Note: It is no mere coincidence that on the Sunday following Easter Day, with its prominent and primary proclamation, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” upon which the Christian faith is based and without which there is no Christianity, that we read the gospel story of doubting Thomas. For faith and doubt are not opposed. Rather they, intrinsically and ineradicably joined, are companions on the pathway toward deeper, greater belief.
Without doubt – that capacity and liberty to profess wonderment and to confess, “I don’t know” – I am less likely to question.
(I digress. Anyone can give an answer. I receive information from a reliable source – the Bible or other noteworthy book, a scholar or a trusted friend – and, believing it, I repeat it and all without revealing very much of what I think or feel. However, when I ask a question, seeking information and knowledge that I do not have and desire to possess, I express, I expose more of where and who I am and what matters to me.)
Without doubt, I’m less likely to listen, especially to words and ideas that differ from my own.
Without doubt, I’m less likely to be open to learning, to discovering something other than what I think I already know.
Without doubt, I’m less likely to believe, to grant intellectual assent to the truth of something or someone.
Without doubt, I’m less likely to have faith, to be assured and convinced of something or someone I can’t see.(1)
This, the value, the necessity of doubt, is what the Thomas story tells me.
Jesus was crucified. The one in whom Thomas had believed and, because of him, everything Thomas had believed was slain by the institutional conspiracy of religion and state. Devastated, Thomas withdrew; perhaps questioning the value of communal consolation, refusing to gather with his fellow disciples, retreating alone into his tomb of hopeless anguish.
The risen Jesus appeared to the disciples. Inspired, inspirited with joy, they searched for their solitary friend to share the good news. Thomas didn’t reject their confession of faith. He didn’t say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Nor did he reject them. He didn’t say, “I don’t believe you!” Rather, in the clarity, the ironic certainty of his doubt, he discerned, came to know, thus, could articulate and, deciding to be vulnerable with his friends, would articulate what for him constituted tangible proof for his belief.
Driven by the courage, verily, the encouragement of his doubt, Thomas rejoined his friends, putting himself in place to test his conviction, then to behold a vision of the risen Jesus, then to make the declaration, “My Lord and my God!”
Notwithstanding Jesus’ question, “Have you believed because you have seen me?”, I don’t think that Thomas believed because he saw or even touched Jesus.
Sight, one of our most faulty, easily fooled physical senses, never can be a trustworthy solitary pathway to belief. Indeed, during the course of his earthly ministry, many saw Jesus. Ate and drank with Jesus. Heard his teaching. Witnessed his miracles. Still, some of those who saw him also arrested and accused, condemned and crucified him because they didn’t believe.
Thomas, I think, saw Jesus because Thomas came to believe that Jesus – the one Thomas had known and loved, the one from whom Thomas learned, the one who, true to his word, died for his cause, the one who, in his resurrection, raised from the dead Thomas’ devastated hopes – was his Lord and God, the one whose teaching and way of being Thomas would follow for the rest of his life.
So, if, when we want to believe, whether the subject is Jesus or anything or anyone else, all it takes is a little doubt.
(1) An allusion to Hebrews 11.1: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Illustration: Doubting Thomas, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)
2 thoughts on “Without (a) Doubt”
Oh Boy!!! This was right up my alley Paul!! As a security person, I paid to doubt until something is proven true. I always hear people say, “let’s go to the videotape”… BUT as we know, video can be altered and changed so seeing isn’t always believing!! I loved your point that we need to have some doubt to be open to learning!! That sentence validated my entire school years. I didn’t think I knew everything, but I was eager to learn every single day because I DIDN’T have the answer, and wanted it!! I totally understand why Thomas ran off and isolated himself after Jesus was killed, because it was just that devastating… I’ve always been a Thomas fan, not so much because he doubted, BUT because when he did come back to the fold and BELIEVED, he was there for life and his doubt erased and Faith Restored!! That’s what I take from this story and it’s an inspirational one for me!
AND a couple of other points about good ole Thomas…
John is the only canonical gospel of the 4 that gives Thomas a voice. He appears twice before John 20…
John 11 where Jesus has been summoned by Martha and Mary to come to the aid of their sick brother Lazarus. They live in Bethany, which is near Jerusalem, and Jesus, already having been there, was nearly stoned to death by his opponents. (By the way, John, also of the 4 gospels, has Jesus in and out of Jerusalem on more than the one occasion of his triumphal entry before his crucifixion and death.) The disciples remind Jesus of this, clearly afraid to go near the place. Thomas, alone among them, says, “Let us go that we may die with him,” demonstrating a fearless loyalty…
John 14, on the night before Jesus’ death, when he speaks to his disciples of his departure, saying, “You know the place where I am going.” Thomas, alone among the group, demonstrating his characteristic honesty that refused to say he knew something that he didn’t know, said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so, how can we know the way?” Thereby, he extracted from Jesus this grandest of teachings, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
I write this because I think too many folk make too much of Thomas’ doubting (which, given my sermon, I think is a good and necessary thing!) whilst overlooking his attributes of loyalty and honesty. All told, it seems to me, Thomas is a model disciple.