Nearer to God: we are Thomas

Unbelieving? You must be kidding! It is precisely the doubter who comes closest to God. The key witness is the often misunderstood Thomas. Here is a somewhat different perspective on the account of Easter.

The story actually unfolds in something of a cycle: similar—if not identical—things happen three times in chapter 20 of the gospel of John. It is an interplay of question and answer, seeking and finding.

Question and answer

Where is Jesus? —This is the question Mary Magdalene asks herself when she arrives at the tomb on Easter morning. This is also the question that Peter and the beloved disciple—most often identified as John—ask themselves after their race to the very same place. And this is ultimately the very same question that Thomas asks himself when he expresses doubts about the accounts of his fellow disciples.

Jesus has resurrected! — This is the answer that Mary receives when she encounters the man she supposes to be the gardener. And this is also the answer that the disciples—and finally also the straggler Thomas—receive when Jesus steps into their midst on two consecutive occasions.

Seeking and finding

The events thus continue to cycle. But the significance of these events increases with every repetition: an upward spiral begins.

For example, when it comes to seeking: Mary only sees the open tomb and searches the surroundings. Peter and John, on the other hand, enter the tomb and find it empty. Thomas is likewise a seeker. However his search is an internal one—expressed through his doubts.

And the same certainly holds true when it comes to finding: Mary recognizes her Teacher (Rabboni, Master) in Jesus. The disciples end up recognizing their Lord (Kyrios, commander). But only Thomas truly recognizes the depth of Christ's being: "My Lord and my God [theos]!"

Distance and proximity

The gospel of John shows, in a very tangible way, just how close the doubter comes to the Saviour: Jesus keeps Mary from coming too near the resurrection body with the words, "Do not cling to Me!"He goes on to show His wounds to the disciples. But it is only Thomas who is permitted to touch His wounds.

Mary merely receives a simple task to perform, namely to tell the disciples what has happened. On the other hand, the Apostles are given far-reaching authority, namely to forgive or retain sins. And Thomas? He first of all earns a reprimand, namely because he did not believe without seeing.

Yesterday and today

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."—To whom does the core message of this chapter apply?

The upward spiral gives us the answer: it revolves from Mary's morning walk to the evening run of Peter and John, all the way to Jesus' return on the same day of the following week. It intensifies as it moves from the individual to the two representatives of the disciples and all the way to the gathered collective—and its ultimate completion by the one disciple who was missing the first time.

In a nutshell: the challenge applies to all people of all time periods. It applies to you and me—here and now. We are all Thomas. We hear the Easter message of the resurrection and do not really fathom it. We cannot walk to the grave ourselves, and we wait in vain for any visible proof.

Learning from doubt

So you have doubts? So what? So did Thomas. Mind you, his words did not seek to undermine, but rather expressed his desire, "I want to know!"Just as he wanted to know before Jesus answered Him with the words, "I am the way and the truth and the life," and just as he wanted to know when Jesus decided to set off for Bethany: "Let us also go, that we may die with Him!"

This is the same stubbornness with which Job once said of God: "For I know that my Redeemer lives." And this is the same uncompromising attitude with which Jacob once wrestled: "I will not let You go unless You bless me."

Those who believe in such fashion will also come to see. They will recognize their God and Redeemer, and they will be permitted to touch Him right up close.


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Andreas Rother
26.03.2016
Easter