Second Sunday of Easter
My daddy left home when I was three
And he didn’t leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don’t blame him cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue.”
Well, he must o’ thought that is quite a joke
And it got a lot of laughs from a’ lots of folk,
It seems I had to fight my whole life through.
Some gal would giggle and I’d get red
And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head,
I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named “Sue.”
Johnny Cash wrote this song about A Boy Named Sue. This is a young man who had his whole life defined by one thing- his name, Sue. Because of this name, Sue was picked on, got into fights, and as a result he became a tough, strong, and calloused man. Thomas also has been defined by one thing. He has been defined as a doubter. He is A Boy Named Doubter.
We get this name from the Gospel reading for today. Jesus has been killed and most of his disciples are hiding out for fear that the same thing will happen to them. Thomas misses out on this experience because he is out doing something (we don’t know what, but it sure wasn’t hiding out in a locked room). The disciples tell Thomas what they saw, Jesus passed through the locked door, he said “Peace be with you,” and he showed them the wounds on his side and in his hands to prove that he really was Jesus. Jesus was there, in the flesh. He defeated death. The resurrection is real and Jesus was with us. Thomas, however, says that he will not believe unless he sees Jesus with his own two eyes and puts his hand in Jesus’ wounded side.
And from that point on, everyone remembers him as Thomas the Doubter.
But that isn’t really fair. You really shouldn’t label someone for something that they said once without knowing anything else about their life and we do largely ignore the rest of his life. When we see the other things he did during Jesus’ ministry, we see that he was actually an incredibly faithful and brave person.
The first time we hear Thomas’ voice is in the 11th chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus just received news that his friend, Lazarus, might have died. Jesus resolves to go to Judea to see his friend and be with his sisters, Mary and Martha. The disciples try to talk Jesus out of it, “Jesus, I’m not sure if you remember, but the last time we went to Judea we almost got killed! Stoned to death. Maybe we ought to let things cool off before we head back there.” Jesus, however, has made up his mind. He is going back to Judea. The disciples, were not yet convinced. I imagine them sitting in circle grumbling to each other about how it’s not worth it to risk your life to go visit someone who may or may not even be dead. It’s stupid.
Then Thomas speaks up. He rallies the disciples and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas wants nothing more than to be by Jesus’ side. He wants to follow Jesus wherever he goes and see what he is going to do next. He is so faithfully committed to following Jesus that he is willing to lay down his life in order to be with him.
The disciples and Jesus do survive and some time later Jesus is teaching them. Jesus tells the disciples in a cryptic and vague way (as John likes to do) that he is going ahead of them to prepare a place for them. Thomas asks Jesus what he is talking about and asks for some directions. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Come on, Jesus. If you are going to be going ahead of us, tell us how to get there so we can meet you there.
Jesus then answers with the famous words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus teaches his disciples that where you go in life is not important, but the real destination of our lives is to be with God. To be with Jesus. Truth and life are found in Jesus. Being with Christ is the way.
Thomas remembers those words and holds onto them dearly- even during the event in which he is labeled, “Doubter.” Jesus has appeared to the other disciples in Thomas’ absence Thomas wants nothing more than to see Jesus too. He wants to be with Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He wants to have Jesus with him, so he can be absolutely sure that he really is the risen one. In this way, even Thomas’ doubt is an act of faith. He wants to be with Jesus. Period.
That is Thomas, that is us, and that is the life of faith. Sometimes we are so sure of our faith that we are willing to die for it. We so strongly desire to be with God that we are willing to give up our lives to do it. We are willing to give up our whole lives in order to love the people that Jesus loves and to love justice the way God loves justice.
At other times we so desperately desire to have proof of God. We want to be sure that our faith isn’t in vain. We want to be sure that God is really with us even when it seems like God is so absent. I and I suspect many others, have asked God for a sign. We ask God to give us some kind of proof that God is really there with us, because we can’t see God. This is especially true in hard times. Maybe it is when we are sitting and contemplating the problem of evil in the world- why bad things happen to good people, why injustice seems to reign, and death is relentless. Maybe it is when things are a little more personal- when a loved one is dead or dying or when we are hoping to be pulled out of a dark pit of despair. During these times we have probably wished for some kind of sign to assure us that God is there. We want to see God. We want to be with God.
That is us and that is Thomas. He wanted to see God more than anything else. He wanted to have undeniable proof that death is a defeated enemy. He wanted to see the risen Christ with his own two eyes.
After Jesus appears to Thomas (and he does appear to him!) Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” I don’t think this is so much of a passive aggressive shaming of Thomas. I don’t imagine Jesus saying this while Thomas is standing next to him and maybe adding in a whisper, “Don’t be like this guy who had to see in order to believe.” I think Jesus is talking more to us than the disciples. We are the ones who have not seen and who are hoping to believe. We are not one of the 12 disciples, we are not Mary, Martha, or Lazarus, we are not even the centurion. We are not any of the characters in any of the gospels. None of us have seen Jesus with our own two eyes. We have not seen and often we are struggling to believe. Jesus is telling us that we are blessed when we believe without having seen- that it takes a blessing from God to believe without having seen. It is only by grace that we can believe in what we have not seen. He is telling us that we have experienced the blessing of God when we find ourselves believing.
After this, the author of the gospel looks up from the pages he has been writing and looks at you and me. He says, “…these [words] are written so that you may come to believe…” These words about who Jesus was, whom he loved, and how he died and rose again were written so that we might be able to believe without having seen.
We are in the same place as Thomas before he saw the risen Christ. We want to believe, but often we find it so hard to do so. We desire just a little bit of proof. We need a sign that God still cares. But we have this story and we know the ending of Thomas’ story and we know the ending of ours. Thomas sees Jesus. Jesus comes to Thomas. By faith we hope to see God and by the stories of faith we are told that it will happen. With Thomas who is called the Doubter, we will see Jesus and exclaim with him without doubt and with boldness, “My Lord and my God!”