All posts by Jon Swanson

About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

More on Thomas

(Part two of a message from April 23, based on John 20:19-31. See part one.)

And we say, “But what about Thomas’ statement when he heard about the night?” He says, “unless I see his hands and side, and I touch him, I won’t believe.”

That’s the sure sign of a doubter, right?

IMG_0166May I ask a question? Who is he doubting? Jesus? Or is he doubting Peter? The man who had said he would stick with Jesus and then denied him. Is he doubting Nathaniel, who had been the original doubter of Jesus? Is he doubting the word of a bunch of guys who are never recorded as saying anything at all?

Thomas had no reason to trust these guys who talked to him about seeing the hands and side of Jesus. So when he says, “unless I see” he’s not doubting Jesus, not necessarily. But he is doubting them. He’s wanting the same evidence that they say they received.

And Jesus knew. Because Jesus loved Thomas. Jesus wanted him to believe, to trust. So a week or so later, Jesus gave Thomas the evidence that he wanted. Jesus appeared. He offered his hands. And Thomas believed. He didn’t even have to touch.

Because he was known by Jesus, I think. The person who had called him by name years before. The person who had fed him, taught him, walked with him, died in front of him, was alive and calling him by name. With gentle scolding and clear conversation.

Some of us resonate with Thomas.

We are active people, willing to move ahead, even in risky times. We, or I should say, “you”, don’t much care about the resisters, about the opposition, about those who are making threats. You are practical people, aware that if you die, you die, because everyone does some time.

But you have questions. You’d love to have the kind of evidence that other people say they have. Just once, you’d like to hear a voice from heaven like other people claim to have. Just once, you’d like to see the evidence of Jesus that other people claim they have.

Not miracles, not healing necessarily, not everything going great.

You just want to know that God knows you. For who you are. And to you, the story of Thomas says, “just say it.” Just tell Jesus that you’d like to hear him in the way that you can know it’s him.

And I’m confident that you will. If and as you listen.

I’m a little envious of Thomas, by the way. His honesty, his perseverance, his courage. Those were things the people who knew him saw. The rest of the disciples I mean. And Jesus.

People who lack discernment may call him, and you, “doubter”.

But Jesus doesn’t. After he said to stop doubting, He calls you friend.

And maybe you are ready to take steps that Thomas didn’t at first. You can take the words of the rest of the disciples-and Thomas-that this is Jesus, died and risen. And God.

Reconsidering Thomas.

(Part one of a message from April 23, based on John 20:19-31.)

In our reading this morning, 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.

IMG_0166John 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.

Five minutes. Five years.

five yearsI talked with you last week about my spiritual formation course. If you were to take that course in a face-to-face setting, I’d start class with this assignment.


I want to you to take five minutes to answer this question.

How would you like to be known in five years?

You can’t talk about jobs. We’ve got no control over that. We’re talking about the kind of person you want to be. If you and I were friends and in five years we met someone new, how would you want me to introduce you?

A great example of this, by the way, is Paul’s introduction of Tychicus in Colossians 4.

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, (Colossians 4:7-8 ESV)

He’s got three characteristics that Paul finds worth noting, three nouns and three adjectives. Brother, minister, servant. Beloved, faithful, fellow.

So take five minutes.


After this time of reflection, the learners would sit in groups of 3-4 and talk with each other. Eventually, each person introduces someone else from the group using the five-year description. And when I remember, I have the introductions happen in the present tense. Not, “he wants to be” but rather, “she is.”

It’s a heart-provoking process. It starts a course that talks about how we are formed with perspective. Looking at the gap between today and five years from today give us space for thinking about what processes happen in between.

And it’s a reminder of the value of conversation and community in that process.

If you want to go along for a ride with me, try this exercise yourself. Find a couple other people, ask the question, answer it together, and let me know what you discover.


NDW. It stands for “Not Doing Well”.

It’s not a technical term. I’m not sure that anyone outside our hospital even knows what it means. It’s a message our chaplains write next to a name on a list that lets other chaplains know that this particular situation is one to be aware of. It reflects a pastoral sensitivity to a medical situation.

A patient may be in the very last stages of a disease. A patient may have had breathing support withdrawn. A patient may have life-threatening injuries which are, in fact, threatening life. NDW.

FullSizeRender.jpgWe pay attention to those names, those rooms, those families. We stop by a little more intentionally. We spend a little conversation and affirmation on the people who are providing care.

It’s not that people who are NDW are more special. It’s not that they are less capable. It’s that they need help and we can provide some.

Sometimes people go off the list when they RHC. Sometimes people go off the list when they get well. Sometimes people go off the list when their situation goes from acute to chronic, from hospital to extended care.

Our care is rooted, in part, in Paul’s words to a small church he loved: “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”

Paul understood that all situations involve connection, but each situation demands discernment and response. We’re good at warning. We can tell other people what to do with precision. But when you are not doing well, you need patience, help, and courage.

And that’s what we try to see and do.

But if I’m honest, Paul’s not writing just to chaplains. He’s writing to me, and perhaps to you. He’s inviting us to look at the list of people we see today with prayer and discernment. To mark one or two of them, NDW. And to respond accordingly.

To be with God.

(Part three of my Easter message. Read part one and part two.)

I heard a story the other day about a dad who thought he was going die. He had two young daughters. He wanted to make sure they would have a dad in their lives so he created a council of dads, men who were willing to speak into the lives of his daughters as they grew.

One of the men he asked was his oncologist, a man who was doing everything possible to help this man fight the cancer in his femur. The man said to the oncologist, “What will you tell my daughters?” The oncologist thought. “I will tell them that everyone dies,” he said. “I will tell them that everyone dies, but not everyone lives.”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”

with is why.He didn’t say, “Go to church.” He said, “Come to me”. He didn’t say, “Try to be as nice as you can and I might be happy with you.” He said, “Come to me”. He didn’t say, “You’ve disowned me once, that’s it” (or twice or three times). He said “come to me.” He didn’t say, “You can figure out the reason for every detail”. He said, “Come to me”.

I’ve found that I don’t understand most things that happen. But I also have found that I have a capacity to trust God. Not church. Not people. Not myself. Every one of those falls short. And I don’t always trust. But I have the capacity, the possibility, the desire to trust God.

I may not give you enough arguments to make you understand. There are books that will give evidence for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. I can point you to those. But I‘m not trying to make that argument.

This morning, I’m suggesting that the why of Jesus’ life gives us a why for our lives. To know and be with God.