Courageous Master of the Awkward Question

— Midweek Meditations:
thoughts, inspiration and encouragement
from ACF community members —

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!”

John 20:24-28

How I love this little tale, which we heard this past Sunday as our gospel reading! Thomas is one of those people in the bible that I have always thought were treated too harshly by the conventional interpretations I have grown up with. I got the feeling that contemporary Christians look down on him, on his perceived lack of faith, on his alleged dumb questions. I guess this affords them a sense of superiority and a reason to pat their own backs for their firm faith that apparently even Jesus has all but praise for:

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:29

But that is not the Thomas I see. My Thomas is brave enough to ask the hard questions. He is not afraid to be vulnerable, to speak his mind, to withstand being carried away by general excitement.

It’s a real shame that we’re not told what Jesus’ tone of voice was like when he said to Thomas: “Stop doubting and believe.” In my childhood bible lessons this exclamation sounded strict, almost angry.

Yet that is not the voice of Christ I came to encounter in my own life. The still small voice within me was always full of empathy when I was brave enough to face the hard questions that welled up in me. It met my vulnerability with kindness and seemed to even appreciate me thinking things through in an honest fashion.

Malcolm Guite, a contemporary British poet who often manages to put my feelings about God, faith & live into beautiful words, wrote this sonnet, revealing that in those verses in John’s gospel he also must have met the same Thomas I did:

St Thomas the Apostle

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”

Courageous master of the awkward question,

You spoke the words the others dared not say

And cut through their evasion and abstraction.

Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,

You put your finger on the nub of things

We cannot love some disembodied wraith,

But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.

Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,

Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.

Because He loved your awkward counter-point

The Word has heard and granted you your wish.

Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine

The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.

Malcolm Guite

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