In today's Scripture, he lent us his name and his attitude: "Doubting Thomas." Somewhat of a pessimist by nature, a mere weeks before when Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem, Thomas could see the handwriting on the wall. Jesus was clearly a persona non grata to the religious and political authorities trying to maintain a delicate balance of power and peace in a turbulent city seething with the ever-present possibility of terrorist violence. Thomas knew that if Jerusalem was where Jesus was going, it would be the place of his death. Like Eeyore, he would shuffle dejectedly along, mumbling, "We might as well go and die with him" (11:16).
Thomas was no fool, and was not surprised when his fears were realized, though he was scared, for if they would crucify Jesus, they wouldn't hesitate to mete out the same judgment on his followers. Being seen together would smell of plotting insurrection, which would be dealt with quickly and severely. Better scatter and lay low for awhile was Thomas' plan. Unfortunately, it meant he wasn't present when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples. Which is where we pick up the story.
"Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."" -John 20:24-29
You have to give Thomas credit: he wasn't going to pretend to believe something just because others said it was so. But his doubting wasn't the same as unbelief. He hadn't turned away from Jesus; he just didn't know what to make of him, which is where we often find ourselves also. What do you do with a Jesus who insists on a course of action that is plainly suicidal? What do you do when you've done your best, prayed your hardest, and your child still succumbs to cancer? What kind of Jesus doesn't prevent your shop from closing down and throwing you into instant financial disaster? And what about that time you asked him for wisdom and made the best decision you knew how; a decision that ended up hurting not only yourself, but also someone you love? How does this faith stuff work, anyway? Thomas the Doubter is you and me. The early Church Fathers well understood this. In the two texts in which Thomas is named, he is called "Didymus," which means, "the Twin." And yet, who he is a twin to is never named, which led those early commentators to speculate that the reason for this is that every one of us is Thomas' twin. Thomas is you and me.
Like us, Thomas had his reasons for not being with the other disciples, reasons which may have been quite legitimate and plausible. But his absence made him vulnerable and caused him to miss out on what the others had experienced. Thomas may have been a doubter, but he wanted to believe, and didn't ignore his friends' invitation to meet with them the following week. Good thing, too, for doubter that he was, when Jesus showed up, he was a believer.
Skeptic that I can be when I am by myself, meeting with my brothers and sisters is what often helps me turn the corner from doubt to faith. Their faith and joy is infectious; the melodies and lyrics of others who have met him draw me in, and in the Word and Sacrament I hear his voice and receive his grace and forgiveness. My twin might have been "Doubting Thomas," but both he and I know how to believe when we meet Jesus, and I am grateful tonight for my brothers and sisters in whose company Christ appears.