But [Thomas] said, "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." A week later ..., although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
Dear friends -
My son, who does not follow me to church, quotes to me an old adage, one with which Jesus might have an interesting argument to listen to: "The believer is happy; the doubter wise."
In reminding me of this ancient and conflicted wisdom, my son stands as a proxy for many, many people I love, and gives voice to a rich way of seeing the world. It's a wrestling voice that has the sound of my own words, doubts, and questions, in chorus with others. Most of us have a hard time believing things we can't or haven't seen. At the very least, we have our own customized filters for what we accept on faith. Jesus is a puzzle like this.
Even if we had sat at Jesus' feet while he was alive, and had embraced his life-refreshing, if difficult, teachings, it would still be hard to take in his words when he re-appeared as a resurrected soul. Like Thomas, we'd probably have to see to believe.
Much has been written by scholars of the Bible about what the word we read as "believe" really means. In a culture that has grown around religions which insist that, "You must BELIEVE this, or else ___ [Fill in the blank]", it can be very hard to stand up to the priest or pastor and say, "I want to be happy AND wise. I need to believe AND doubt." Far too many faith leaders have replied by saying, "No Communion cup for you, faithless one."
But the Communion cup is not a reward. It is an offering. It is an embrace. It is a sign that, while Jesus, in the voice of God, may chide us, he never rejects us. Jesus did the "tsk, tsk" thing to Thomas, for being unable to believe without seeing. But he didn't throw him out of the room.
God knows that we're not there yet - wherever 'there' might be. It seems pretty clear that God has had enough time to figure out that we have a lot of questions and doubts. Some of those questions are really, really hard ones. But most of us know that there are a lot of moments of "Aha! Now I understand that!" along the way to full understanding.
A silly example: in the garden, I came to know the delight of understanding how to deal with witch grass. It felt great. Then the crab grass came up; I'm still working on that. But I can re-live the joy of what I've learned, even as I bang my head against the garden fence about what I haven't yet learned. If we can't "believe" something, we can still belove it.
Somewhere this week, I read someone's words: "God is a question, not an answer." This flies in the face of many traditional "understandings" of God (who is, by the way, pretty much incomprehensible). Yet I think God delights in our questions. God certainly prefers our questions to watching, broken-hearted, as we walk away in disgust, frustration, or sad resignation.
A faith life of questions and doubts may not be the easy, groaning table filled with steak tips, shrimp cocktail, potato salad, and fresh cherries we'd like to sit down at. But there is bread and cup at that table, and all comers are welcomed.
We'll serve this holy meal this Sunday. The welcome includes you. Remember; it's not a reward. It's an offering - a gift - an embrace. It is, in its mystical way, the Body of Christ, right before our eyes. Thomas knew that, and that was enough. It took him time to figure this out, but figure it out he did.
We call out to him across the centuries: "Thomas, we know thee; we understand."
For us, for now, it's also enough. And there will be more when needed.