This Sunday most of us liturgical types will be listening to the Gospel of John, the 20th chapter, where "doubting Thomas" encounters the risen Christ. As Sarah Dylan Breuer notes in her lectionary blog (see link above), Thomas tends to get a bad rap in sermons; and I remember, back in my childhood, hearing numerous post-Easter sermons smugly contrasting Thomas' unbelief with our own superior faith. But let's take a more careful look at Thomas.
Thomas is a Realpolitik, just-give-me-the-facts kind of guy; and he's got heart. When Jesus makes it clear that he's headed for Jerusalem and big trouble, it's Thomas who says, "Hey -- we may as well follow so we can all die together." Later, during Jesus' farewell discourse, when Thomas doesn't get something Jesus says, he asks for clarification; he doesn't just sit there nodding and smiling sans clue the way that some of us (well...me) might. Now, as the other disciples are cowered in their locked room, Thomas is the one who ventures outside. And when his friends tell him about their amazing interaction with the risen Lord, Thomas -- characteristically -- says, "Wait a minute. I have to see this myself. I have to touch him myself."
And -- this is so Jesus -- Jesus comes back for Thomas. And when he does come back, he doesn't punish Thomas for needing the reassurance of sight and touch; Jesus doesn't smack Thomas upside the head or yell at him or de-commission him as an apostle. Moreover, when Jesus tells him, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe," Jesus is not making a negative contrast; instead, he's pointing the way to the future, where Thomas' (and the other disciples', and our) witness to the reality of Christ will continue to gather others in to the family of God, to make the peace and joy of Christ real for more and more people.
At the risk of exceeding the Lutheran load limit for spiritual self-disclosure on this blog -- once upon a time, not all that many years ago, Jesus came back for me. Unlike Thomas, I wasn't even all that keen on the reunion, because it meant admitting I had completely screwed up my life. But Jesus came back anyway. And he keeps coming back -- every week when I hear the Word and receive the Sacrament; every time I pray, or just sit and wait for him to show up; every time I talk to a friend who's "seen the Lord" too, and is trying to be Jesus for me; every time I'm out there trying to be Jesus for someone else. The Good Shepherd is like the bad penny; always turning up. Thanks be to God for the One who always comes back -- for you, for me, for all of us. And that is good news indeed.
Artwork by Hanna Cheriyan Varghese