I’ve always felt petty bad for Thomas, especially around this time of year. There’s nothing like your part of the Easter story being boiled down to “don’t be like this guy,” or “hurry up and stop being like this guy,” or “we’re at least better than this guy because we’ve never even seen Jesus.” I’ve lost count of how many sermons I’ve heard with some idea along the lines of, “Get it together, Thomas.”
Just a few chapters earlier, Thomas is suggesting that all the disciples prepare to face death alongside Jesus. And then?
Good Friday happens. The bottom falls out. The other shoe drops. The story takes an unexpected and gut wrenching turn.
Jesus, his friend and teacher, his hope is brutally murdered. He dies a criminal’s death.
Jesus is gone. Thomas is broken. He might’ve heard Jesus say he would rise again, but sometimes brokenness just feels so broken. Sometimes the darkness is just too dark. Sometimes the grief of now blinds us to the hope of tomorrow.
I don’t know if this was Thomas’s story, but I know it has been my story. Has it been your story? Do you know that place where sorrow is suffocating? Where tears are your companion? Where grief feels like it might just crush your very bones?
David and I are driving in the car, talking about Thomas. His story keeps coming up throughout our Easter day. “One perspective is that Thomas was actually just very sad about Jesus dying– he had trusted him, and he was feeling a bit reluctant to put himself in that place again…that’s why he asked to touch Jesus’ side.”
Those words hit me slow. And a memory washes over me.
I know what that feels like. I remember praying those prayers. And I remember that my attitude wasn’t anything like the “Doubting Thomas” of flannel graphs, sunday school coloring pages, and so many sermons. It was brokenness. It was desperation. It was hoping against hope that the story I was living in wasn’t the true story. It was being exhausted from being beaten down and not ever wanting to experience that again. It was waking up, morning after morning, wondering how my life would ever be happy again. And wondering how you are supposed to go on just living broken like that.
I would be wary of Easter, too.
Of course, as we discuss on our car ride, we can’t actually know what Thomas was thinking, but we will conclude that we don’t have to know, because Easter isn’t actually about Thomas. It’s about Jesus. That’s why I get puzzled and I get frazzled and it makes me sad when we put a simple human under a magnifying glass and we say “don’t be like Thomas,” or “doubt less than Thomas,” or “hurry up and believe harder.” But the beauty in this story isn’t Thomas. It’s not even that we don’t have to experience the pain Thomas might have experienced, thinking that Jesus was dead forever. The beauty in this story is Jesus, and we so often miss it because we’re sizing ourselves up against Thomas.
And as we’re thinking and talking about Thomas, I’m reminded of this painting I read about in that book that changed my life. It’s called The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, and I love it. From that look on Thomas’ face to the way Jesus is guiding his hand.
The beauty in Thomas’s story is that it’s our story, too. All of us. The beauty is that Jesus doesn’t respond to Thomas the way that we do. Jesus doesn’t seem angry with Thomas. He doesn’t scold him or belittle him or call the other disciples around and say “Hey, we’ve got a Doubting Thomas over here. Don’t be like him.” He gives Thomas himself. Thomas doesn’t even have to ask. The beauty is Jesus standing there, looking at us, talking to us, offering himself to us, even when, especially when we feel like the odd one out who keeps showing up but just can’t seem to “get it together.” The beauty is Jesus reminding us that faith grows in different ways, that it’s the One we believe in who makes us blessed, not how good we are at believing.
If this Easter found us wary, if it found us waiting. Tired of hoping, afflicted. Brokenhearted or grieving, may we look to the Risen Christ, the Lord who does not call us to muster up faith in our own strength, does not chastise us for our hesitance to believe, for our deep need. The Christ who sees us: the broken, the hurting, the ones who keep falling apart. The Savior who understands what we need even before we ask. The Gracious One who births faith within us by offering himself to us. Over and over again.
And may we approach him, like Brave Thomas, Broken Thomas, Brother Thomas, and ask if we might have just a bit more of him.