Saturday, April 06, 2013

Thomas the investigator

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Thomas the investigator
T.L. Eastman

It’s been said that everyone loves a good mystery. Readers love to ponder who did what, when they did it, and how what they did caused all the mystery to begin with. In a good mystery there is a question that needs to be answered and a sleuth that gathers clues until they ultimately solve the puzzle. Do you have a favorite sleuthIf you like imagine Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple when you think about the example of an investigator. My favorite investigator's name is Thomas. " Thomas who?", you might ask.

The gospel of John expresses time and time again the answer to the question: “Who is Jesus?”
Chapter 1 proclaims, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory.”

With John’s proclamations and signs, it would not seem to be too much of a mystery to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” However, this is a question that people continued to ask. Throughout the gospel, people seek out Jesus in order to ask him that same question, “Who are you, Jesus?” Nicodemus a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, comes to Jesus at night to ask how Jesus did the signs he had witnessed. The Samaritan woman comes to believe that Jesus is the Messiah after he tells her about the sin in her life and extends grace to her. The royal official comes to Jesus to seek healing for his son, but professes belief in Jesus before he sees or hears that his son is well. Martha in her grief over the death of her brother Lazarus tells Jesus that she believes he is the Messiah, before he raises Lazarus from the dead. Mary anoints Jesus feet with expensive perfume in order to prepare him for his crucifixion and burial. By her actions she professes her belief that he is the Son of God and will return from the dead.

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus provides signs not only to display his power, but to point to God and the relationship he held with him; as well as reveal truth to an apprehensive people.

After Jesus death, Mary Magdalene is the first of his followers to see him at the empty tomb and is sent back to the disciples to deliver the news of his resurrection. Mary believes that Jesus is the Messiah. Later that day, Jesus appears to the disciples assembled in a locked room. Jesus blesses them, gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. After seeing Jesus, the disciples also believe and tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord, but Thomas refuses to believe them.He also wants to see Jesus – he needs to be sure that who the disciples have seen is the same Jesus that he had been taught by, followed and saw die. Thomas needed to see Jesus. Thomas, just like the other disciples, also needed and answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Over time, Thomas has picked up the title, “Doubting Thomas. Today, I would like to change that title. What Thomas asks for is to see Jesus, to touch his wounded hands and side. Just like the other disciples that did not believe that Jesus was alive by word alone, Thomas wanted evidence and proof to move from unbelief to belief. In his own way, Thomas was investigating the clues he had on hand in order to solve the puzzle of Jesus resurrection and his relationship with God the Father. 

The gospel text says that Thomas waits for a week with the other disciples before Jesus appears again. In that week, I wonder how many questions he asked Mary Madeline and the other disciples about what they had seen and heard. Did he look like their teacher? Was his voice the same? Did he have marks on his hands and side left from his crucifixion? Did Thomas take notes on what the disciples told him? How far was he in his investigation that week when Jesus came again to see him? Instead of thinking of Thomas as a doubter, maybe we should think of him as an investigator.

Imagine for a moment what it would have been like to be in Thomas’ shoes. You have heard all the stories of your friends. You have mulled the questions over and over again in your mind. You want to see Jesus so badly, but then part of you is afraid to believe. Losing him once was enough.

Thomas was in a place where his belief in Jesus had been suspended, put on hold, held at bay. He had been taught by his teacher for three years and his life had been changed. How could all this learning and life be over because his teacher, his rabbi was dead?

Then after all the questions, the waiting and the grief, Thomas and the disciples see and hear Jesus once again:

“Peace be with you”. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your fingers here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not “unbelieve” – but believe. Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas’s reply is the answer to everyone who has ever asked the question, “Who is Jesus?” His words are a powerful confession of faith – Jesus is the Son of God, I am, the Messiah! Thomas the investigator has answered more than his question; he has found the answer all of humanity is searching for.

We all have our mysteries of faith. We all have questions, and even sometimes doubts. While we are not able see Jesus with our own eyes like Mary Magdalene, the disciples or Thomas; we too can be investigators of faith. So who do you say Jesus is?

Just as Jesus gracefully revealed himself to Thomas, Jesus can reveal himself to us as well. In the text Jesus states, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This blessing reassures us and future generations of believers that having to see Jesus with your physical eyes is not a prerequisite of faith! Today your ears are filled with the gospels words to inspire hope and help each of us move from unbelief to belief in Jesus Christ. The proclamation of the good news of Jesus is the ground of faith. It is in hearing this good news that we put aside our own unbelief and stand with Thomas the investigator in the space of belief in Jesus – our Lord and our God!

No matter what mystery or puzzle you face. Investigate. Ask questions. Pray. Just like Thomas, Jesus can meet you where you are. Peace be with you. Amen.