Sunday Message for 11 April 2021: “Don’t Doubt Thomas”

Today we examine one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. The apostles were gathered together, minus Thomas, and the air dripped with expectation. A miraculously appearing Jesus revealed his physical wounds and convinced those gathered that he was real.

Two major points to discover in Jesus’ appearance are the power of forgiveness and Thomas’ doubt. As to forgiveness, Jesus stated,  “ ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ “ (John 20:22b-23).

Notice that Jesus provided those gathered with the Holy Spirit, marking the first-known post-resurrection mention of God’s spirit. The hotly debated part is when Jesus seemed to be granting his disciples forgiveness authority. The issue is that many people believe that only God can forgive sins. Yet today’s verses suggest that God’s forgiving power was also given to Jesus’ inner circle. Other interpreters claim that Jesus wasn’t really granting a new power of forgiveness but rather that he was saying that any of God’s people can offer forgiveness to one another. Either way, forgiveness is crucial and something people of faith should seek and receive.

A second major theme in today’s message focuses on doubting Thomas, who would not accept that Jesus had appeared. To remedy this unbelief, Jesus reappeared and had Thomas place his hand in the crucifixion wounds. Then Jesus lectured Thomas about how blessed it is to believe without having to see. This episode has created for Thomas the unpleasant title of “Doubting Thomas,” which has become an epithet used against people who are skeptical about faith issues. Many folks claim that believers should accept whatever is already a part of their faith and not encourage questioning. Their argument is that Thomas is an example of how a questioning attitude undermines faith.

A different view about Thomas is that questions and doubts arise from a thinking person’s properly functioning mind. The view is that theological traditions must be continually tested against reality and adjusted accordingly. To not question is to not think, and both are bad. Perceived this way, Thomas’ behavior opens a new window of opportunity for sorting good religion from bad religion, toxic faith from fact-friendly faith.

Some people feel caught between productive questioning on the one hand and blind acceptance on the other hand. It’s helpful when the process of debate and dialogue reveal logical fallacies, historical inaccuracies, and unrestrained hubris. Jesus didn’t dispute Thomas’ motives. Believing without seeing is a blessing, Jesus said, but Jesus didn’t condemn questioning. More often than not, history illustrates that fanatics’ resistance to questions is an attempt to hide something, that asking may reveal nasty secrets and hypocrisies. “Thou shalt not question” is not an eleventh-commandment!

In his defense, Thomas felt better after confirming Jesus’ identity. You may also derive some benefit from confirming your assumptions so that what you think you believe can be tested and verified. The caution is that you don’t want to go too far because Jesus challenged Thomas by saying blessed are those who believe but who do not necessarily see, suggesting that you can’t always confirm everything assumed to be true. Does this mean that people who act and believe through blind faith are happier? Or, do we follow Thomas’ approach and try to get verification whenever possible? The truth is, combining both approaches whenever possible might be best.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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