soulMerlin’s Almanack

Archive for the '(St) Thomas' Category

The Blessing of Thomas

January 31st, 2008 | Category: (St) Thomas, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, apostles, christian, jew

Doubting Thomas 390pix (2)

I call it the “Blessing” even though we are lead to think the “Doubt” was a flaw in the nature of Thomas and that Jesus admonished him for his failure to believe without proof.

The “Doubt” of Thomas is taken to refer to his scepticism about the physical re-incarnation of Christ as reported to him by the apostles – that Jesus had indeed beaten the “death-barrier” The other possibility that Thomas simply wanted to be certain that it was indeed Jesus and not an impostor is somewhat underplayed. “Doubt” is therefore vilified as being unchristian – at least in John’s gospel.

This excerpt from a sermon I pulled up on the web, seems to support my contention…

“~The question is, will we be a doubter, or will we be one of those who Jesus said were blessed because they believe, even though they have not seen?

Dear Father, help us to believe in our heart those truths we find in your Holy Word, even though we have not seen them with our eyes. Amen.”

I personally find the above quote rather invidious, in that a member of a Congregational flock (especially a child) really has little choice but to try to believe without question, in order to remain part of the group. In one fell swoop, the prayer above brands anyone who doubts as being wrong and therefore not blessed by Jesus. The conclusion, that it is in some way unchristian to doubt and question, cannot be avoided. The conditioning is further underlined by the fact that the excerpt comes from ‘Sermons for Kids’:

www.sermons4kids.com/seeing-is-believing.html

‘Questioning belief’ therefore becomes a secret process, carrying with it the guilt of deception, together with a sense of inadequacy and ‘wrongness’.

All the translations of the Holy Bible I have looked at, including the modern-language ones, read in a steady scholastic way, probably due to the influence of the translators, who were probably ‘bookish-monkish’ and almost certainly cloistered.

So let’s go back 1,974 years and look at the scene in the familiar ‘human’ way of newspapers and contemporary writing:

~ Jesus has just been crucified – his disciples are in great danger from the authorities, who having ‘seen to’ the group leader, are now keen to ‘mop up’ his possibly disorientated followers. It would have probably been wiser for the sect to disband, at least for a while, until the heat died down; but no – their elation at having seen Jesus eight days earlier when he was supposed to be dead has brought them together again, this time with Thomas who wasn’t at the first meeting.

I cannot understate the danger they must have been in:

Ciaiphas had persuaded the Romans, through the political face-saving manoeuvrings of Pilate, to remove any remaining threat to their authority. The establishment would no doubt be hoping that the group would attempt to meet. Roman and possibly Jewish spies would be dispatched to merge and infiltrate the close community. Every move made by the disciples and Mary would be tracked. One can imagine bribes, rewards and promises of promotion being given, together with threats to the Jews to reveal the whereabouts of the criminals – the blasphemers.

I can imagine the thoughts of Thomas:

“Mary didn’t recognise Jesus at the tomb”

“What if he is an impostor and a spy?”

I can imagine him listening to Mary and asking:

“But why didn’t you touch him? Why didn’t you touch the wounds?”

Mary’s response “he told me not to” would only raise the suspicion that the wounds were false and painted on the body of the impostor.

Thomas was probably aware that Mary touched Jesus often; bathing and anointing him…she would know by touch or smell if Jesus was genuine.

“Maybe that’s why the man claiming to be Jesus told Mary not to touch him, and now he’s probably tracked us down to one of our risky meetings behind closed and locked doors.”

Thomas may have come to the conclusion that the authorities were trying to capture them all. He had not been there when the disciples saw him the previous Monday, eight days ago – plenty of time for a possible Jesus-spy to sort out an ambush.

All that would be needed would be a signal, like the Judas-kiss and they would all suffer a slow painful death.

So it is understandable that Thomas would consider that the only practical way of being sure that the man was not an impostor, would be to examine the wounds to see if they were real. If they were real, then that would be the proof he needed.

So here we are the following Tuesday. Again a clandestine meeting behind locked doors; fear and danger are palpable. Suddenly Jesus or the impostor is in the room –

Perhaps he was there all the time, although John does make it sound like a miraculous materialization…

~“And after eight days, again his disciples were within and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said, Peace be unto you.

Then said he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.”

“…and be not faithless, but believing.”

How often the above statement is used to quell doubt; to bring conformity and obedience within religious groups. How many of a congregation in a church, temple or mosque, would have the courage to stand up and say:

“I’m not sure if a God exists, but I’m looking and thinking, analysing and praying that one does exist because if there is no God and no Afterlife, then all I have left are of few years on this planet before final oblivion.”

Of course those are my words and fears and yet my Doubt is what actually motivates me and drives me on. It is my doubt that spurs me to attend meetings; to read and meditate on the concept of eternity. Sometimes I think that if this planet and this three-dimensional existence were “all” then maybe we would take better care of it and of ourselves, instead of putting up with this life and its problems as merely an annex to a “better place.”

It’s no use leaving this world in a mess, or destroying it because there’s a Heaven to go to.

Meanwhile, back in the locked meeting room, “Doubting Thomas” has got the proof he needed:

“And Thomas answered and said unto him, “My Lord and my God.”

By uttering the words above, Thomas at once exposed himself to the greatest physical risk if caught or betrayed. He had not referred to Jesus as the Son of God, but as God Himself – as God incarnate – total blasphemy to any establishment surveillance. Death would be a blessed release from the torture he would have to endure if reported and captured. No wonder Annas Ciaiphas, Pilate and the Jewish community wanted rid of Jesus. The upstart Christ had the potential to destroy the Jewish holy order – not that the Romans would have minded too much, except as an occupying force, they would have sought to keep the Jews “in their place”. Pilate would be keen to “keep the peace” – as the envoy from Rome, he would be blamed if dangerous uprisings threatened the stability of the Roman occupation. How very modern and News 24 it all sounds…

It is the final statement of Jesus that is used most often today, to quell doubt and the inevitable questioning that follows – questioning that might destabilise the current religious establishments, much in the way Annas and Ciaiphas feared the influence of Jesus:

“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Of course “They” or blessed; “They” do not have the gnawing doubt; “They” do not have the moments of elation, followed by misgivings. “They” are the believers.

But then, what is “Belief” and would you die for your belief, without the proof Thomas needed? Perhaps more importantly, would you take the risk of losing that belief in the light of critical analysis, or would you prefer to embrace what you perceive as “The Mystery”, and are afraid that investigation will reveal “the light” to be an illusion? It may be more virtuous to doubt courageously, than to hide behind a group-screen of blind belief and conformity.

The Blessing of Thomas for me is that I do not feel so alone in my doubt.

illustration at top of page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_(Caravaggio)

2 comments