Who doesn’t like St. Thomas? His is an easy feast to celebrate. He is a character we understand because we have all probably been ‘Thomas’ at one point or another. He is skeptical, genuine, hopeful and serious when faced with the risen Lord and the Truth that looks too good to be true. He is gob smacked in John’s Gospel today—we can nearly imagine him craning to see if there is some hidden camera to explain it away.
Oh boy, have I felt like Thomas this year. Having experienced a miscarriage during Holy Week—I feel like I have pushed my levels of skepticism to new heights. Going through the motions of celebrating new life, death overcome, when inside my very being is the proof that death lingers, was one of the most paradoxical experiences of my life.
Having come from this place, I can appreciate Thomas’ desire to reach out and touch something—whatever it is we are seeking at a given time–the risen Lord, a job offer, the check ‘in the mail,’ our loved one, lost. Touch can go a long way to help me make sense of this already-but-not-yet promise that I believe, but with much more sluggishness than I have known previously. I can cling to the fact that God is good in the midst of any circumstances, and yet I find myself really struggling to make myself vulnerable enough to trust in that again, physically.
Some may say, today’s Gospel advises against getting mixed up in the physical, that belief itself is sufficient. After all, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Conversely there are the many adages that describe an embodied, physical kind of trust:
“Walk the walk if you talk the talk.”
“Put your money where your mouth is.”
“You’re either out or you’re all in.”
“This is where the rubber hits the road.”
It is unavoidable. Our actions either will or will not stem from what/in whom we believe.
One of the things I like best about the Christian tradition is that it is based on a cast of characters who are anything but the polished, poised, PR reps whom we might expect. Think of Peter, Paul, Judas, Thomas—those whose roles are integral to the life and ministry of the church as a whole, but individually offer a bumbling depiction of Christian witness. Some might (and do) criticize a group that would hold up such imperfection as models and leaders, though it feels like there is a deeper wisdom in these choices. Rather than an exclusive “who’s who” club, it recognizes that the healthy have no need of a physician— the sick do. You know, those of us with real, human lives and hang ups. There is absolutely no illusion of perfection.
How that comforts and maddens me at the same time!
The examples of these men, these experiences of less-than-perfect, provide the framework for how we understand our own stories within the context of the larger, Christian story. We can, in fact simultaneously be both broken and whole, sinner and saint, lost and found, alive and dying. Our brokenness is not shielding us from a relationship with God, but very often is even the catalyst for it.
‘Doutbing Thomas’ is many things; perhaps most of all he is extending an invitation to believe by whatever means we have within our grasp and to know that will be enough.