Summary: There is a mystery in the suffering of Jesus - we know that. His wounds are special, because they are Godxs wounds for us! We know that Jesusx wounds are deeply tied to His ...
We’re in John Chapter 20 today - revisiting the story of ’doubting Thomas’.
This is a familiar story. We have it read to us in church every year, though I’m not entirely sure why that is.
As most of you probably know, we in the Anglican church work on a three year lectionary, which means that we follow a set order of Bible readings that go in a three-year cycle. What we read one week is therefore not normally read out again for another three years.
There are some notable exceptions though to this rule. One is the 23rd psalm, which comes up on ‘Shepherding Sunday’ every year. Another one is this one - the ‘doubting Thomas’ story of John 20. It seems to come up every year, and I can only guess that that’s because it won some ‘People’s Choice Award’ for the most popular reading for this time of year many, many years ago, when our lectionary was first put together.
People love this reading. Everybody loves this reading … except me. And that’s not just because I’m forced to think up a different sermon on the same passage every year. There is something in the story that bothers me deeply, and it’s not Thomas.
No. I love Thomas. He’s a passionate man, and that’s OK. So am I!
Thomas lives passionately, as he’ll eventually die passionately, and so of course he doubts passionately!
Thomas … was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." ( vs. 24-25)
It’s an extreme response. And maybe he should have thought a little bit more before blurting this out (I mean, did Thomas really want to shove his fingers into the nail marks in Jesus’ hands). Even so, it’s a passionate response, it’s a frustrated and disillusioned response, it’s the response of a broken and grieving man who wishes he could have his relationship with his Lord Jesus back again - a real, passionate and physical relationship - but who holds out no real hope of ever seeing this happen.
As I say, I have a real problem with this passage, but it’s not Thomas. Thomas is a brother - a fellow struggler.
And it’s not the disciples. I know they come across in this story as a cowardly little bunch of Nancy-boys, but they had been traumatised. I am sympathetic.
We’re told that the disciples were cowering behind closed doors in some little hide-away, ‘for fear of the Jews’ (verse 19), and I appreciate that it’s hard to imagine big, burly guys like Peter and his fishing mates, cowering away from anybody, but they had been deeply shaken, not only by the death of Jesus as such, but by having all their hopes and expectations shattered.
I remember when my own first marriage fell apart, it was a long time before someone was eventually able to explain to me what I was going through. “It’s the bursting of your bubble”, a mate of mine eventually told me.
Your first marriage is your first great dream. It governs your life’s vision and expectations for the future. And so when it falls apart, it’s not simply that you have trouble dealing with your loneliness, nor is it solely the pain of not seeing your children. It‘s the fact that your dream for your life has turned out to be a lie!
And this is what these guys are dealing with, as a result of their ‘marriage’ to Jesus, for it was indeed a ‘marriage’ of sorts. They’d shared their lives, their home, their food and their hopes with Him for three years (which makes their relationship far more intimate than any number of ‘real’ marriages) and now their bubble had burst!
And so the disciples are scared, confused, grieving, and, I imagine, totally at a loss as to what they are supposed to do next.
And so Jesus comes and says, “Peace’” to them, and then says it to them again, and then again, and He has to debrief with them and He has to allow them to touch him, and then after all that they finally seem to be able to feel at ease with Him once more.
No, there is something about this passage that disturbs me very much, but it’s not Thomas and it’s not the disciples. It’s Jesus whom I find unsettling in this story - the resurrected Jesus in His resurrection body!
I don’t find it hard to believe that He was resurrected in body and I don’t have any trouble believing that this new body of His was not bound by the normal limitations that govern our bodies. He seemed to be able to move around with great alacrity and to be able to come through locked doors and brick walls. What I find hard to deal with though is that Jesus, in his resurrection body, was still marked with the scars of his suffering and death!