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Second Sunday of Easter — April 16, 2023

Jesus is patient with “doubting Thomas.” Maybe we should be too, writes Editor Teri McDowell Ott.

Teri McDowell Ott's lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook's email list every Monday.

Year A
John 20:19-31

Jesus is very patient with Thomas. Despite my inclination to be annoyed with this disciple, maybe there is something to learn in Jesus’ compassionate tolerance.

In his Feasting on the Word commentary, Martin B. Copenhaver writes that Thomas is oftentimes given the moniker, “Doubting Thomas” as if he is the only one who needs more proof to believe in Christ’s resurrection. But, Copenhaver reminds us, Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and didn’t believe until the risen Christ appeared and spoke directly to her. When Mary told the disciples about her encounter with Jesus, they dismissed her, only believing after the risen Jesus appeared and spoke to them, as well.

I still find Thomas taxing. I mean, where was he when Jesus first showed up? Everyone’s there, fearfully gathered behind locked doors, except for Thomas, the disciple who seems to need (and expect) extra — extra attention, extra proof, extra time to get on board with the plan. Like your annoying uncle who habitually questions everyone’s experience or the kid in your youth group who piles three brownies on his plate when you’ve carefully portioned one per person. When Jesus makes a second appearance (maybe just for Thomas?) Thomas still needs more — he has to see and feel the mark of the nails in our crucified Savior’s hands. Why can’t he just trust what everyone else is telling him?

Jesus is so patient with Thomas, though, offering his body to this doubting disciple, inviting him to touch the wounds in his hands and his side, in a strikingly intimate gesture. The Greek verb for “to see” used repeatedly in this passage can also be translated as “to perceive,” “to come to know” or “to come to understand,” turning this scene from mere witnessing, or the “seeing” of a miracle, to a teachable moment. The best teachers – like Jesus – know that students learn differently. Jesus meets Thomas’ need to not only hear the other disciples announcing that Jesus has returned, but to fully experience it for himself as a physical sensation Thomas can receive and believe in.

We are not blessed to see or know Jesus in the flesh. But the tactile experiences of the sacraments are ways we, like Thomas, can touch the risen Christ. Hands held in prayer, at the bedside of the hospitalized, or in a friendly “Passing of the peace” during worship, also convey the warmth and intimacy of our Savior’s spirit embodied within and among us. Touching friends, fellow church members, and strangers in the name of Christ gives us physical proof that Jesus is present — intimate gestures of trusting each other’s goodwill and allow ourselves to be touched in return.

“Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe,” Jesus says at the close of this passage. On face value, this statement reads like a knock against “doubting Thomas.” But with all Jesus has done to meet Thomas’ needs, maybe this is Jesus’ acknowledgment that those of us who were not there, who did not witness the risen Christ with our own eyes, also have opportunities to come to know and experience Jesus, who is patient with us all.

Questions for reflection:

  1. When have you doubted and needed more from God?
  2. Do you know someone like Thomas? What are they like?
  3. In what ways have you experienced the risen Christ?

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