In our reading on Sunday, the second Sunday after Easter, we heard about a disciple named Thomas. People who never knew him have labeled him “doubting Thomas” and he’s had to bear that label for millennia. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what his friends would have called him.
At the time he was also called Didymus. The twin. There’s no record of who his twin was. None at all. And it’s only in John that we see him as an individual. In the other gospels, he’s just one name in a list of twelve.
The night that Jesus came back from the dead, Thomas wasn’t with the rest of the disciples.
It could be because he was antisocial.
But look at the text.
John writes that the disciples were together, behind locked doors, for fear of the Jewish leaders. They heard from Mary that Jesus was alive. Two of them had seen the empty tomb. But they were still afraid. They may have heard the rumors that were being spread that they had stolen the body. Getting caught would have meant trouble.
So they were meeting together, sorting it out, afraid for their lives.
That evening, only one of the disciples was brave enough to be out on his own. The only one with courage was Thomas, though it may have been a fatalistic kind of courage.
Thomas speaks two other times in John’s Gospel.
After Lazarus has died and Jesus is telling the disciples that they need to go to Bethany, they don’t want to go. They are afraid.
And Thomas says, “Let’s go. We may end up dead, but let’s go.”
He has an active, practical courage. “It may not work, but let’s just do something.”
“It may not work, but let’s just do something.”
Those aren’t the words of a passive, cynical, doubter.
They are the words of someone willing to go with Jesus, even if it means ending up dead like Lazarus.
A couple weeks later, at the meal with Jesus on Thursday night, Jesus is talking about going away so he can come back. He was talking about his death and resurrection and ascension.
And Thomas says what everyone else wanted to say: “We don’t know where you are going so how can we go?”
Actually, Thomas was the second one to say it. Peter had asked where he was going. And in the process of responding, Jesus told Peter that Peter was about to deny knowing him.
So when Jesus started talking again about leaving, everyone may have wondered what he meant but who would dare ask? If Peter got shut down, what would happen to the next person? And the next person is….Thomas.
An active practical courage.
So the night that Jesus appeared and Thomas wasn’t around, there is no reason to judge him for not being with the rest. He was out, taking care of life, moving on. An active practical courage.
(Part one of a message from April 23, 2017 based on John 20:19-31.)