Sermon 24th April 2022

Gospel; John 20, 19-31


I often feel Thomas gets a bad press in Christian circles. Only ever remembered as “doubting Thomas”., although in that doubt is later revealed the exclamation from Thomas “My Lord and my God”, the first time Jesus is recognised as such by any disciple.

In actual fact, the word doubt is not used in the gospel we read. Doubt is a word that, however, is perhaps helpful. Because it’s not a black and white word. Belief, the word that appears in the gospel as the verb believe is, however. You either believe or you don’t- there isn’t really a half-way point. Doubt, in contrast, has the nuance that, maybe you believe, perhaps, maybe not, you’re not quite sure.

Is that where Thomas stood, not quite sure of what the other disciples told him, or, as the gospel says, did he simply not believe them and only believed when he saw Jesus, literally, in the flesh?

Most commentaries searched through don’t actually help much, they all concentrate on the difference between Thomas not seeing for himself, and then seeing and believing, and Jesus’ assertion that Thomas believes because he has seen, and subsequently blessed are those who believe without seeing- i.e. us, and all future believers. Which is all sold theology and leaves those who actually believe in the risen Christ with a nice warm feeling. Blessed, because, of course, we haven’t seen.

But when we read the scriptures, if we have a true belief, we shouldn’t just be reading them to underline our existing faith, we read them to learn more of the nature of God, to strengthen and enrich our faith, to, ultimately, I hope, become better Christians.  Or at least we should. So how can this passage enrich our faith?

A couple of commentaries, helpfully, examine the root of the Greek word used for believe in this passage; pistos, revealing it to be a bit more nuanced than the English word believe. Its meaning is wider and can include words such as faith and trust too.

Faith, of course immediately strikes a chord- having faith means believing something you can’t prove, can’t see, it fits neatly with the sense of the reading and Thomas’ final pronouncement of faith.

Trust, however, perhaps leads us a little deeper.

I always feel believing something is somewhat of an intellectual thing, it’s something you think, it’s why it’s a little black and white.

Trust, on the other hand, is something I tend to feel. Yes, it’s informed by my intellect, and my experience and knowledge, but it’s something that I can’t always quite reason. And, yes, it can include that word doubt within it too, sometimes.

There are some people I would happily trust with a five-pound note to go the Gallery stores for me, buy something and return with the change. But I’m not sure I’d trust the same person to look after my dog when I go on holiday.

And would I trust the person I trust to look after my dog with full access to my bank account, if, somehow, I was temporarily unable to do so myself.

And there’s some people I’d trust with confidential information, that they wouldn’t tell anyone else, others that I know, that if I confided in, would gossip it, behind my back to all and sundry whilst claiming to keep my confidence. And even sadly, those who I would hope or expect to trust, and find instead that they’ve stabbed me in the back.

Trust, as much as it involves knowledge, experience and intellect, also involves feeling. I’d trust my wife with my life, because of our love, and that trust is something I feel. And those I’d like to trust, but can’t, actually hurt me- I feel that lack of trust.

So when we go back to the gospel then there’s perhaps a deeper meaning when we add the nuance of trust to those words of Thomas to his disciple friends- reworded slightly-“I can’t trust what you tell me, until I see the wounds in his hands” and then Jesus’s words to Thomas when he says believe, perhaps embracing the phrase “Trust in me”.

Because if we then also add that nuance of trust to the words of Jesus,

“Blessed are those who believe without seeing me”, instead of having a warm satisfied feeling justifying our belief, Jesus’s blessing relies on something more active than black and white belief. That blessing relies on our total trust in him, something which, yes, involves our intellect, our knowledge, and our faith, but also involves a feeling, a heartfelt and deep feeling which relies on love- just as I would trust my wife with my life, so we trust Jesus with our lives because of love, deep, deep love which is the response to God’s infinite love for us. And trust is an active verb, not only involving feeling, but involving action and interaction with the other, and it’s a two-way thing.  When you fully trust someone, they tend to trust you fully too. And, finally, trust can be deepened the more we get to know someone, as it can the more we get to know and love Jesus.

So perhaps this passage does not just tell us of Thomas’ doubt, or leave us feeling comfortably blessed by our own  belief in the unseen, instead it challenges us to actively trust Jesus, to trust him with our lives, only possible through a deep love for him. A love which also would then have us exclaim, like Thomas, “My Lord and my God”