Thursday, March 27, 2008

Double Dude: Thomas

Easter light be with you all!

Jesus' disciples had real world names, even nicknames. Simon Bar-jonah was nicknamed Kepha in Aramaic, Petros in Greek. We translate those as Cephas and Peter. In other words, Rocky. Jesus gave him that name. Jesus called James and John the "sons of thunder". Was he describing their personalities, or body functions after they ate fiber? Andrew means "manly guy". Philip is literally "friend of horses". Horse Dude. Thomas comes from the Aramaic "Thoma", twin. Double Dude.

We know him, unfortunately, as "doubting Thomas", today a metaphor like "good Samaritan".

Maybe it's time to go back and re-read John 20 with open eyes and minds instead of two millennia-worth of predispositions.

So Jesus was raised from the dead... So....? Big deal! What does that mean, exactly? Do we have a genuine answer that comes out of our own life experience? Or do we only have 2K years' worth of stale sermons to regurgitate?

John 20 is the evangelist's answer to the question, "What does it mean?" John answers through two people: Mary Magdalene and Thomas.

Thomas is my hero. Thomas has guts. Consider John 11:16. Jesus, who has been blacklisted and marked for death by the religious establishment in Jerusalem for healing on the Sabbath, proposes to return to the Jerusalem slum of Bethany to bring life to his dead friend Lazarus. Everyone knows it could be a fatal decision. It is Thomas who says, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Not Peter. Not James, John or Andrew. Thomas. Double Dude.

We begin the story in question at John 20, verse 19. Don't forget that this is set on the evening of the day when Mary M. has come running in with news far bigger than the empty tomb personally inspected by Peter and another disciple. "I have seen the Lord!" Mary exclaims.

Should have blown the doors off the disciples' safe-house. They are hiding behind locked doors "for fear of the Jews." Still. Even after they know that Jesus is no longer dead. So is "for fear of the Jews" more of a statement about the Jews? Or about the disciples themselves? Ponder that.
Jesus appears among them, gives them his peace (twice) and the gift of the Holy Spirit, without which they are unable to grasp the meaning of the resurrection or have faith. Hmmmm.... Jesus shows them the physical wounds in his risen body, but Double Dude is not there to see. So when the rest of the gang relates this encounter with the risen Christ and how they now believe, Thomas is at a significant disadvantage.

Thomas has guts. He has the guts to say out loud what everyone else was thinking. Thomas states the problem for every human being in relation to God. Unless Thomas is able to see, he will never believe. He will never be able to believe.

Thomas nails it. Thomas asks the question on behalf of the other 6.9 billion of us who were not in the room either. Thank you, Double Dude!

A week later, Thomas gets his chance. Jesus again appears. Thomas states his case quite opnely to Jesus, asking for only what the other disciples have already received, the ability to "see" Jesus as the crucified one who is no longer dead.

Jesus complies. He doesn't say to Thomas, "Get outta my face, you faithless fool!" He presents his hands and his side saying, "Touch. See. Believe. And by the way, not everyone else will get ths chance. But rest assured that the witness of my resurrection that you provide is genuine, and I will bless it with my Spirit and with faith. It will be effective for all who come after. That's how things will work from now on."

That's mighty good news for the rest of us who were not in the room.

If you have faith in Christ today it is because somebody told somebody else who told somebody else--for two thousand years. Somebody made it possible for you to "see", which in John's gospel is always how one comes to believe. For John, seeing is believing. The book is all about seeing. You didn't get there all by yourself, now, did you?

Who had the guts to help you "see"?

More next time about Jesus' words to Thomas: "Do not doubt but believe". The Greek says something a bit different from what we have always heard. 'Til then, happy seeing!


Pastor Roger

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