Sometimes we come across people who are so much like us that we cannot react neutrally or ambivalently toward them. We gravitate toward those, even while other people of different temperament are singularly unimpressed by them at all. I find very interesting the person of Thomas in the few glimpses we are given of him in the gospels; perhaps I should take note of that interest. Let’s look at him in today’s text, taken from the larger context (John 11:1-27) which easily obscures his part in the story.
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
It must be noted that Jesus had just left Jerusalem under considerable tension. There were some very important people who sought to do him harm, and his faithful band of followers knew it. So when Jesus indicated an intention to return to the area, they understandably questioned his sanity. Are you nuts? The explanation that he had to awaken a friend who was sleeping hardly established his firm grip on reality. Only when he plainly indicated that Lazarus had indeed died did the idea of traveling back to Judea seem in any way sane.
Thomas, he of the “I’ll believe it when I see him” attitude, displays here not as much a skepticism as a resignation. ” He’s going to go and get himself killed, but we might as well go with him.” It’s both a negative response and in indication of intense loyalty. He has no idea of what lies ahead, fears the worst, yet intends to follow Jesus no matter what–even at the cost of his own life. Whatever misgivings he might have had, he knew that he and his friends had come too far in their identification with Jesus to turn back now. Perhaps he was echoing the words of Peter earlier in John’s gospel: where would we go–you have the words of eternal life?
There are occasions and circumstances in which it is easy to despair of the prospects for Jesus in the current cultural climate. There is a level of hostility toward Christianity which cannot be totally unlike what was exhibited toward Christ in the days leading toward his crucifixion. Some of the more militant atheists are calling for the abolishing of religion, especially the one called Christian. Many occasions can be cited by which to conclude that Christianity is to be debunked, defamed, and destroyed. It is increasingly difficult to gain a hearing in some quarters because the disinformation has preceded the message to the point where it may not be heard on its own terms at all. When we encounter these tendencies, do we cower, retreat, make them larger than they really are, quietly go about our business, or become militant ourselves? Or do we just go on under the assumption that we are going to lose, but we’ve got nothing else to engage us, so we’ll go down with the ship and hope for the best?
Or can we believe in the resurrection? Not only of Jesus’ body, but of his power to transform minds, hearts, and cultures? How much has Thomas grown inside of us? Your thoughts are welcome.