Summary: Thomas, one of the twelve, who was called the Twin, wasn’t with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples kept telling him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he told them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger into them, and put my hand i
We’re in John chapter 20 this morning - the familiar story of ‘doubting Thomas’ - and, as I’ve noted many times before, this is one of those few passages in the Bible that the church in her wisdom suggests that we should read every year at this time (rather than every three years, which is the normal way in which we cycle through the Bible).
Why does the church love this story so much that she feels we need to hear it again, year after year, every year on this auspicious Sunday - the first Sunday after Easter? My assumption in the past has been that we want to read this story every year because we love the character of ‘doubting’ Thomas, because we identify with him so strongly in his doubting.
Thomas had doubts. We have doubts. Jesus loved Thomas anyway and helped him move beyond his doubts. We want that too, hence we love Thomas and the story of ‘doubting’ Thomas. That is the explanation that I had assumed was right, without having really given it too much thought. But in reading the story again this year it occurred to me that this can’t be right, for Thomas’s doubts are not really anything like ours at all!
For one thing, Thomas’ doubts about the resurrection arose out of the fact that he had just spent three years of his life with Jesus and that he’d had very specific expectations about where that whole journey was taking them - expectations that the crucifixion of Jesus had shown to be entirely false - and the whole idea that the journey could somehow be restarted must have sounded crazy to him.
When we have doubts and questions they are probably not focused specifically on the resurrection, and even if they are, they do not arise out of an inability to come to terms with the fact that Jesus died (something that we take for granted).
Moreover, in terms of our connection with the character of Thomas, we have to admit that, at first glance at least, he appears to be a rather perverse man - obsessed, it seems, with the idea of touching the injured parts of Jesus’ body: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger into them, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe!"
These are the words that Thomas is best remembered for, and they come across, at first glance, as rather unsavoury? “Unless I stroke his beard again and look into those deep brown eyes again (or deep blue eyes if you prefer the Hollywood version of Jesus) I will not believe.” That sounds far more palatable, doesn’t it?
Why was Thomas obsessed with the wounds of Jesus? It’s a good question. And it leads us to the even more important question of why on earth did the resurrected body of Jesus still have wounds?
Jesus was in His resurrection body. The body of Jesus had been changed through the experience of death and resurrection. There is no doubt about that. As this Gospel passage itself makes clear, the resurrection body of Jesus was not bound by the same earthly limitations as his previous body had been. The resurrected body of Jesus seemed to be able to come through closed doors as He appeared and disappeared, and that body evidently looked different, such that Jesus’ disciples sometimes failed to recognise Him at first.
That, in itself, is sort of what we might have expected - that the resurrection body would be something of an upgrade to the normal earthly version.
We look for the coming of a better world and Jesus, the Bible tells us, is the ‘first fruits’ of those who believe (1 Corinthians 15). As Christ has been raised, so shall we be raised. As Christ was given a new body, so shall we be given new bodies. And in that better world, where ‘the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ and where sorrow and pain give way to joy, our new resurrection bodies find an eternal home, which leads me to wonder though whether all these resurrection bodies will still carry with them the disfigurements that came to them during their earthly lives?
Well … maybe that’s how we’ll recognise each other in Heaven? Maybe one day one of you will come up to me and say, “Dave, I’d recognise that broken nose anywhere!” It’s possible. Seriously though, it is the wounds that we carry that identify us to those who know us best.
If you’re familiar with Homer’s Odyssey, you may remember how Ulysses, after he returned from the Trojan war, was unrecognisable even to his own family but how, as the story goes, he was given a bath by the aging nurse, Eurycleia, who recognised him through a scar that he had on his leg.