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In Defense of Thomas

by Elaine Pearson

It’s amazing how a nickname can stick.

In this Sunday’s gospel lesson (John 20:19-31) Jesus appears to the disciples and shows them the nail marks in His hands and the wound in His side. They’re all present but Thomas. When they tell him about it, he says “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

For 20 centuries since, he’s been called “Doubting Thomas,” and that’s a term sometimes used to describe any person who is skeptical.

But is it fair? Let’s think about Thomas.

First, where was he? The disciples were cowering in the upper room “for fear of the Jews.” And Thomas had gone out to… what? Buy food? See if he could find some news? Secure a safe way out of the city for all of them? So why isn’t he remembered as “Thomas the Brave” or “Thomas the Not-too-scared-to-do-what-needed-to-be-done?” After Lazarus died and the disciples were unsure whether the make the dangerous trip, Thomas was the one who immediately said "let's go." In later life he travelled as far as India preaching the Good News! Maybe "Courageous Thomas" is a better nickname.

Second, what he demanded in order to believe was to “see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side.” Isn’t that what the others had been given without asking? Would they have believed without that experience? We will never know. But it seems Thomas was only asking for the same experience they had.

Third, when Thomas finally does see Jesus, he immediately says ““My Lord and my God!” Not “Master, it’s really You,” but a declaration of who Jesus really is.

So, let’s give Thomas a break.

And before we lay a nickname on anyone else, maybe think about whether there’s more to the story.

Want to know more about Thomas? Try this link. Or this one.

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