Saturday, April 18, #7: John 20:19-29 (We recommend you read this passage in full before reading the devotion.)
Written by Rev. Dr. Joe Lenow, Assistant Professor of Religion at Creighton University
You know, I must have read this story a hundred times, and I don’t think I ever realized before today that Thomas may not be the most interesting part of it.
Think about it: the disciples are gathered in the Upper Room, having just witnessed the execution of their Lord, and they fear they’re next. They’ve heard the stories Mary is telling about having encountered Jesus, returned from the dead, but they can’t quite bring themselves to trust her; it all sounds so fantastical. And then something truly remarkable happens: passing through a locked door, Christ appears to them, and their world changes. In this new resurrection light, they know him truly to be their Lord and their God, and they receive a new charge: they are to proclaim the risen Christ to all the corners of the world. They are to make disciples of all nations. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, empowering them for this new ministry. They are transformed: not only disciples, but friends; not only followers, but apostles. And in the first step of this glorious, triumphant mission, they get to share this good news of Christ’s triumph over death with one of their own number, their close friend Thomas, who just stepped out for a minute at the wrong time.
It…does not go well. Thomas should be an easy mark: he has walked alongside them through every step of Jesus’ ministry. He has seen the miracles; he has heard the words of life. He has shared with them in the hope that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, and the crushing disappointment as their nascent movement is dashed against the rock of Calvary. He should be dying to believe them, and instead, he scoffs at them. Just moments after being entrusted with this grand new mission, the disciples are snapped back to reality: if even Thomas won’t believe them, how can they possibly be the right people to carry the message of the Resurrection into the world? How can they possibly be equal to this task?
How can we? How can we look out at a world that so often seems like it has no need for and no interest in God, and Jesus, and Christian community, and think that our words might have any more success than the other disciples did convincing Thomas? If St. Peter himself wasn’t enough for Thomas, how can we think that our lives, our churches, will be sufficient to sway the unbelievers, to persuade them that Jesus really can bring comfort and healing in the midst of loneliness and pain?
They won’t be—that’s one lesson that this passage teaches, and it’s a lesson in humility we’d do well to remember when we’ve convinced ourselves that the happiness of a loved one, or the success of our churches, or the righting of some societal wrong falls all on our shoulders. But there’s a much more important lesson that this passage teaches, and it’s that Jesus shows up—no one comes to the Father but through him. As powerless and unsuccessful as the apostles’ words were in themselves, Jesus appears to Thomas and confirms them, ratifying their proclamation, as imperfect as it was. In that moment, the story teaches us that we can trust that Jesus will show up in our lives as well, that as we witness to his Resurrection throughout the world, he will be with us, and he will show himself in the hearts of those with whom we share his love.
Thomas undoubtedly received a unique version of this; it’s a special grace to see the face of the risen Christ, and to touch his wounded flesh. But an even greater blessing is given to us today: blessed are they who have not seen, and yet still believe. For us today, no less than for Thomas, Jesus shows up to confirm and ratify our proclamation of the Resurrection: he shows up in the silence of our prayer; he shows up in the bread and chalice on our altars; he offers his wounded body in the orphan, and the widow, and the prisoner, and those on supplemental nutrition assistance, and those struggling with mental illness, and the strangers in our land. Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me—it is when we recognize and serve Christ in our midst that our witness becomes truthful, and that we testify powerfully to the risen Lord.
If you’ve missed any of our previous daily readings, you can find them all archived here. We hope these readings are helping you encounter God this season!