Poor Thomas. Our watered-down Sunday school lessons make him the cautionary tale, the embodiment of “weak faith.” Jesus was right there in front of him, and he needed more proof! What kind of disciple was he? Of course, a more mature reading of the story knows the answer to that: What kind of disciple was he? The regular kind. The human kind. The same kind as the rest of us. Of course, he was doubtful. Aren’t we all? Of course, he needed something to see, touch, hear, taste, smell. Don’t we all?
All, even believers, on occasion, need to hear something about the important role of doubt in a grown-up faith. We all need assurance that healthy scepticism only serves to refine our relationship with the holy; that “certain” belief is at best arrogant and at worst downright dangerous. A great passage from the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany might be useful in this context: “Mr. Merrill [their minister] was most appealing because he reassured us that doubt was the essence of faith, and not faith’s opposite.”
But beyond the affirmation of our real life there’s another layer of opportunity here. On any given day, I can get past my own doubts by recalling all the times I knew, for certain, the present faithfulness of God. I can count the blessings I’ve received at unexpected times; I can name the many people who embody love and mercy for me; I can cite the provision of God’s abundance in creation, and at my own table. But what about those who can’t? The story of Thomas makes me think not only of the value of doubt but of the relative ease of faith when one has love, and food, and shelter.
The world is full of those who doubt God’s existence not because their faith is weak but because they’ve rarely been loved, or fed, or gathered into the safety of community. Maybe we as Christians have a certain population that will be near and dear to our own heart: the elderly and alone, the homeless, the mentally ill, the at-risk youth. It is good to highlight some of those mission/ ministry areas and hear the story of Jesus’s appearance through the ears of those who might not have as many daily reminders of his constant loving presence.
Anyway, you approach it, the message for the readings on the second Sunday of Easter is not just a mere affirmation for those who believe but a challenge to all to embody the life-giving proof of resurrection for those who don’t. In fact, “Living Proof” would be a great title, hook, or image to carry us as we reflect on the scripture for this week.
There’s a great line in the 1 Peter reading for this week: “Although you have not seen him, you love him;” (v. 8). Peter tells us that others can know and love Jesus through those who already love and know him. People we don’t know can meet Jesus in and through us. We love others, and through us they come to love Jesus. How can we love people we’ve never met? And what does that kind of love teach us about the love of Christ, even though we have times of doubt?