This morning in our gospel we have Thomas the Doubter. Thomas is one of the most easily criticized characters in the Easter story – why couldn’t that guy just believe, already? And yet, he is also the most relatable – he is the voice of the audience watching this incredible story unfold. Jesus dead and buried and risen again? Who wouldn’t want a little proof?
And while, yes, Jesus gives Thomas the gears, he does so gently. For one, he offers Thomas the proof he seeks. And then he says, as if speaking to us, hearing the story so many years later, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” In the story of doubting Thomas, we see Jesus both affirm doubt as an important part of our journey of faith and encourage us to trust our gut and believe in something good and right, even if we can’t see it.
Surely, we can especially relate to Thomas right now. Our Easter story, in fact, is remarkable for being a perfect lesson to hear during this difficult time. Palm Sunday forced us to consider where we stood in the mob and what kind of voice we raised in the midst of it – the voice of violence or peace? Good Friday challenged us to consider what our responsibility is when life is most difficult and even dangerous. Easter Sunday reminded us that even when life is most difficult and dangerous, we endure, and God’s love prevails. Now we have Thomas, who speaks on our behalf: who, in demanding proof, is really saying, show me that all this will be worth it.
So, we might be asking the same questions right about now, weeks into self-isolation, with the economy tanking, with jobs lost, and families in stressful states. We are deprived of our community, our gathering spots, our worship spaces. We may be losing or missing loved ones whose hands we can’t hold.
So, we ask: is it worth it?
To which Jesus might respond, as he did to Thomas: do you want to risk it? Because we –the audience from afar – know something that Thomas the gospel character does not. We know the story is true: the women and the disciples did, by some miracle, see Jesus. While we feel for his doubt – while we understand it – we might also worry for him: we don’t want him to miss out. Thomas was a good guy, a faithful follower of Jesus. We don’t want his doubt to become the weight that holds him down.
It is hard to imagine another time in recent history when it has been so important for us collectively to err on the side of grace. We are facing an invisible threat, one that doesn’t even make all of us sick. If giving our freedoms and restricting our lives actually works, there will be fewer cases, and more people will live, but we will have to rely on theoretical models to understand what might have happened if we had not. Our overreaction is the action. Even if we have doubt, we have only one choice. To act for the good of everyone.
When Jesus said blessed are those who believe without seeing, he was referring to something much bigger than whether he rose from the tomb three days after being there. He was talking about belief in the gospel, which is sometimes very hard to see in the world we live in. He was referring to people who see truth even when it is shrouded in shadow – those who recognize the injustice of a law or rule, for instance, which everyone around them accepts. All through history those people have existed. To be the first to call a wrong that is universally considered right is a great gift. It requires seeing potential in reality. It requires seeing without believing.
Thomas went from that room with Jesus and spread the gospel. I imagine he had many moments where he was required to believe in the gospel even though the path was dark. Indeed, he eventually paid with his life for that belief.
For us, we are left with the lesson that Jesus taught because of him: doubt is valid; it is a fair question. Sometimes our doubts may be answered. Many times, we stumble on from them, and life continues, and we can’t know for sure. But if our core beliefs are based on the gospel – if we value the rights and freedom and lives of our neighbors – then our doubts have a way of sorting themselves out.
For Thomas, having his doubt sorted, went forth into the world to spread the gospel. For us, at this time, we must set our doubts aside and stay home. For the gospel has already subscribed belief to overlay that doubt. It is the belief that nothing has higher value than the lives of our neighbors, and for them, we always side with grace.