Above: St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New Windsor, New York
Image Source = Daniel Case
My Favorite Biblical Character
Habakkuk 2:1-4 (The Jerusalem Bible):
I will stand on my watchtower,
and take up my post on my battlements,
watching to see what he will say to me,
what answer he will make to my complaints.
Then Yahweh answered and said,
“Write the vision down,
inscribe it on tablets
to be easily read,
since this vision is for its own time only:
eager for its own fulfillment, it does not deceive;
it comes slowly, wait,
for it will come, without fail.
See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights,
but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.”
Psalm 126 (The Jerusalem Bible):
When Yahweh brought Zion’s captives home,
at first it seemed like a dream;
then our mouths filled with laughter
and our lips with song.
Even the pagan started talking
about the marvels Yahweh had done for us!
What marvels indeed he did for us,
and how over joyed we were!
Yahweh, bring all our captives back again
like torrents in the Negeb!
Those who went sowing in tears
now sing as they reap.
They went away, went away weeping,
carrying the seed;
they come back, come back singing,
carrying their sheaves.
Hebrews 10:35-11:1 (The Jerusalem Bible):
Be as confident now, then, since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.
Only a little while now, a very little while,
and the one that is coming will have come; he will not delay.
The righteous man will live by faith,
but if he draws back, my soul will take no pleasure in him.
You and I are not the sort of people who draw back, and are lost by it; we are the sort who keep faithful until our souls are saved.
Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.
John 20:24-29 (The Jerusalem Bible):
Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, “We have seen the Lord,” he answered, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger in the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.” Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him:
“You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
My father served as pastor of Cook’s Union United Methodist Church, about eight miles outside Colquitt, Georgia, in Miller County, from June 1985 to June 1986. One Sunday morning during that year, a laywoman whose name I forget delivered a children’s sermon about St. Thomas. She held a small book about the Apostles. You, O reader, might have seen this book or even own a copy. It features color paintings of each of the main Apostles with a brief profile on the facing page. The book is thin, with a two-tone hard cover. The church member explained that Thomas had doubted the resurrection of Jesus and that he had later taken the Gospel to India, where he died for the Christian faith. So, she said, Thomas was not all bad.
But Thomas not all bad, anyway. The presumption behind her concluding statement was that the Apostle’s doubt constituted a great stain on his character. This was a great misunderstanding.
Let us back up for a few moments, though.
St. Thomas was a twin, hence the Greek designation Didymus, which means “twin.” The canonical Gospels contain few details about him, and he did not write the Gnostic, non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. (I have read the Gospel of Thomas in three translations, and think that its non-canonical status is proper.) St. Thomas traveled through Persia all the way to India, where he introduced Christianity to the subcontinent by the 50s C.E. The modern-day Mar Thoma Church is the heir of this efforts. In India the Apostle met his martyrdom by spearing at Madras; Mylapore is his burial site. Today one can visit his tomb at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Thomas at Mylapore.
St. Thomas was a healthy skeptic. The resurrection was hardly a frequent event, so doubting it was natural. The Apostle was not the only follower of Jesus at the time to harbor doubts. The canonical Gospels indicate that St. Peter was initially skeptical, too. Yet I hear about Doubting Thomases, not Doubting Peters. Anyway, St. Thomas, the healthy skeptic, believed the evidence when he saw it, and dedicated the rest of his life to telling people about Jesus.
I am sufficiently a product of the Enlightenment to accept the premise that doubt is a legitimate path to knowledge. I ask questions when I harbor doubts, and I seek answers when I ask questions. Thus I increase the probability of finding answers when I experience and embrace doubt. Thomas admitted his doubt, received his answer, accepted it, and lived accordingly.
So, let us treat the label “Doubting Thomas” as a great compliment.
Finally, a personal note: St. Thomas is my favorite Biblical figure. He was an honest doubter and seeker, a good skeptic. So am I. If I were a Biblical character, I would be St. Thomas the Apostle.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JUNE 10, 2010
THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.), 1983
THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA, 1925
THE FEAST OF SAINT EPHREM OF EDESSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND HYMN WRITER