What is the legacy you and I tend to attach to the name of the disciple we know as Thomas? In many circles he is known as ‘doubting Thomas.” That comes from the text in John 20:25 where Thomas, when confronted with the news that Jesus was alive said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas doubted the most significant occurrence in Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus!
A week or so ago I was walking past one of those bins filled with old movies for $5 and saw a copy of Mel Gibson’s “On the Passion of the Christ.” I thought on one hand, I ought to get a copy of that. On the other, I remember watching it and during the scourging of Jesus wanting to put my jacket over my head and cry out, “PLEASE, stop it!” It was gory. Alex Metherell, MD PhD, who is a biomedical engineer and physician noted the brutality of the movie was less graphic than the real event would have been. Mel Gibson may have toned it down because he was convinced people could not stand the whole of the picture. If Thomas was a witness to that kind of torture, I for one am convinced that it seems reasonable that his assumption was that Jesus was very dead. After all, there were none of the disciples who were looking for the resurrection when it occurred. They were all surprised. The women who went to the tomb that first Easter expected a corpse, not a living Lord. Thomas’ response seems to me like the one most people would have. “I know what I saw, I need proof!” So we call him ‘doubting Thomas.’
In my devotional reading last week I came across an interesting story in John 11. It is the story of the death and resuscitation of Lazarus, one of Jesus’ close friends. It seems that Mary and Martha send a panicked messenger to Jesus that Lazarus is very sick, likely to die and they needed Him right away. But Jesus doesn’t respond right away. The story suggests that where Mary, Martha and Lazarus live is hostile territory to Jesus. In fact, the last time he had been there people tried to kill Him by stoning. His reticence to go to Lazarus makes sense. When Jesus finally indicates His plan to go to Mary, Martha and Lazarus the disciples are uncomfortable. Jesus is resolute; He is going to Lazarus to heal him. It is in this scene of danger that Thomas speaks up. He says, ““Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
Tradition tells us that after the resurrection it was Thomas who travelled the farthest, to India, to share the gospel in 52 AD. The historian Eusebius chronicles his travels. I have visited a church in Madras, India standing where it is said that Thomas, on his second missionary journey to India was martyred in a hail of arrows from local pagan priests upset that the message of the gospel was so effective among their people.
The truth is that all of us are a mosaic of different people. We remember Thomas for his doubts. Maybe those doubts were well founded. Certainly the story is more reliable because it mentions his doubts. But I can’t help but wonder if our Lord refers to Thomas a ‘doubting.’ In fact, I’d be willing to suggest that God’s analysis is different. I’d like to suggest that he is known as ‘courageous.’
Your life and mine are a kaleidoscope of different pictures. Some are images we are embarrassed by or ashamed of. But God sees it all and those things that warm His heart are the things He calls us by. Remember God’s view of your life is far more important than that of any one who would put a negative label on us.