There Goes Thomas Asking Questions Again!
The Gospel reading for the Fourth Friday of the Easter season has one of my favorite disciples in it: our friend, doubting Thomas. Now, this is still earlier in the Gospel of John, so we haven’t gotten to Thomas’s signature event- doubting the existence of the risen Christ. He needs the biggest experiential object lesson in Christianity- the offer by the risen Christ for Thomas to stick his fingers into the holes of Jesus’ hands, caused by the nails of the Cross.
No, today it is merely a questioning of Jesus and where he will be heading that is raised by Thomas. However, Jesus assures Thomas and the others He indeed will be back, but first he must prepare a place for them. Yet, Thomas is still unsure about what will happen despite the best assurances of Jesus.
Religious People and Faith
One might wonder why this particular story isn’t told before Easter Sunday rather than afterward. Why not during the Easter season when we are celebrating the Risen Christ, rather than Jesus about to be executed? Maybe it is because we too are still in a bit of disbelief, even after over 2,000 years of Christianity.
I was reminded of this last week when I met a good friend of mine I hadn’t seen for a while. She might be described as “spiritual but not religious.” There are days I wish I could get away with that, but that is a subject for another blog entry! As we talked over lunch, I was relaying to her some of the issues I was dealing with that had me pretty unsettled and wondering about things: job issues, relationship issues (or lack of one as of recent), and the general direction of my life. I always chuckle when someone younger comments after they hear some things from me and they are surprised that even when older, we are still dealing with many of the same issues.
My friend, after hearing my “lament” for awhile, just blurted out: “You religious types don’t do FAITH very well do you?!” Pretty blunt, but to be honest, she got me! Apparently my “spiritual but not religious” friend seemed to know more about faith than I did, at least that day.
The Misjudged Thomas
Perhaps we have approached the presence of Thomas in the band of twelve from the wrong perspective. We have used Thomas as the poster boy for doubting Jesus. He lacked true faith and had to have proof. You would think Jesus would have been savvy enough to get rid of such a problematic member of the crew. On the other hand, maybe Jesus was better at putting a team together than we think.
Anyone who has been on a team will often find the person who is always bringing up doubts as a bit of an annoyance. It is so much easier to just plow ahead, than to have to back up, re-evaluate, reconsider, and possibly even readjust previously unchallenged assumptions. Yet, I have been in enough of these scenarios to realize you come out the other end in a better space when you make room for reevaluation. Perhaps this is the same in the 2,000+ pursuit of understanding God’s revelation to us.
My feeling is, the tension between knowing and believing comes into conflict for Christians. It does for me. It is so easy to forget that Christianity is a FAITH tradition.
I think Thomas is actually the disciple that best serves us in the global community that Christianity now finds itself in. In our Eurocentric past and on the tails of imperialism, there was not much in place to make us question our basic tenets. In a global, missional world that is a daily field of engagement with other beliefs and world-views, perhaps the ability to ask questions, as Thomas did so often, serves the body of Christ better. The field of apologetics is thriving, dedicated to proving the validity of Christianity. We use words like “proof,” “assurance,” and “truth,” but in reality, it is by faith that we proceed.
Sometimes we get too caught up in the need to know everything, but our human minds will never fully grasp the immensity of God. It’s okay to not have all the facts. Humility is not a bad thing. Isn’t it really God’s job to change hearts? We have such a witness through the incarnation, through Christ. Maybe my friend hit it on the head, we “religious” people don’t always do “faith” well. Let us use this Easter season to grow in our faith in the risen Christ!
Dr. James Puglisi is the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He received his Bachelor of Arts (1984) from Allegheny College, Meadville, PA in Anthropology of Religions. He holds a Master of Arts in Higher Education (1996) from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA, and a Master of Arts in Applied Theology (2002) from Wheeling Jesuit University. He was awarded a Doctor of Ministry from Catholic Theological Union (2008) in the area of Practical Theology. His doctoral writing was titled “Shalom: The Role of Truth Telling in Creating Communities of Racial Reconciliation within Institutions of Christian Higher Education.” He is actively involved in interfaith and ecumenical work at St. Edward’s University and in the larger Austin Community. In addition to his work in campus ministry, he teaches courses in the cultural foundations curriculum in the area of migration, culture, and diversity. He has presented at conferences on racial reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue. He is originally from Pittsburgh, PA.