John 20:19-31: Thomas > Doubt

John 20:19-31: Thomas > Doubt
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John 20:19-31: Thomas > Doubt
by Lisa Hickman
Watch the Video: Jefferson Bethke on Loving Jesus but Doubting Religion

Thomas is permanently labeled a ‘doubter’ by two millennia of history books, sermons, cartoons and theological treatises in the Christian tradition.  A cartoon by Joshua Harris has Thomas crying out, “All I’m saying is we don’t call Peter ‘Denying Peter.’”

Thomas is not to blame for this label.  He made a reasonable statement in an unreasonable, once-in-a-lifetime resurrection situation.  What’s fascinating is how comfortable we are in letting Thomas be so trapped.  We might need his doubt to make sense of our own.  But when we let the story end with a label as easy as, “Doubting Thomas,” we let ourselves reside in disbelief as well.

Recently, David Brooks of The New York Times criticized YouTube phenomenon Jefferson Bethke for just this.  In a public display of doubt over institutionalized religion, Bethke’s rebellion resonated with over 20 million viewers who watched his lyrical lament, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.”  With statements like, “The church should not be a museum for the good, but a hospital for the broken,” his message is balm to a century disheartened by the institutional church.

Watch the Video: Jefferson Bethke on Loving Jesus but Doubting Religion

While his poetic rant is filled with a plethora of one-liners, the message lacks a vision beyond lament.  Brooks names a singular criticism of Bethke:  “Rebellion without a rigorous alternative vision is just a feeble spasm.”  In his article, “How to Fight the Man”, Brooks challenges Bethke to move beyond rebellion.  Brooks believes Bethke must turn his “passion into change.”

Today’s lectionary text, the story of Doubting Thomas, speaks to rebellion, passion and change.  While it would be easy to paint Jefferson Bethke as a contemporary Doubting Thomas, that comparison fails both Bethke and Thomas.  Bethke is far beyond doubt.  His love for Jesus shapes his logo, “Jesus>Religion.”  But for as much as Bethke believes, he needs the next step. Thomas, surprisingly, provides that momentum. 


From Rebellion to Revelation

One word marks the rebellious nature of Thomas. “Unless,” Thomas says, “Unless I see… I will not believe.” 

This comes as a surprise, throughout John; Thomas perceived Christ’s calling clearly.  As Jesus headed to the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus spoke cryptically of death.  Understanding what was to come, Thomas called the other disciples to perish with him (John 11:16). Later in the Gospel, Thomas asks Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  (John 14:6). Jesus responds, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

By John 20, the certainty of ‘way, truth and life’ are lost to three demands of Thomas.  While the disciples witnessed the resurrected Jesus, Thomas missed that revelation.  Now his request is to see the nail marks, put his finger there, and thrust his finger into his side. (KJV) The path of way, truth and life are lost to the human demand to see, put, thrust. These three verbs name that human desire for manipulation.  We want to change our circumstances ourselves.  When we can’t, we rebel.

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April 11th, 2012 17:51 pm

I would add that believing is seeing. Once we believe in the resurrection and the grace God offers us through the suffering and death of Jesus we can see the whole picture. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, before we believed. Only when we believe that can we see what God has in store for us.

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