Friday, April 21, 2006

How do we treat the defiant ones?

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
(John 20:24-25, NIV)
This Sunday's Gospel is one of my favorites, because it describes so much of my life in faith. And it points out a critical flaw in much of Christian practice today...

Our central character is frequently known as "doubting Thomas," but that's not how I hear it when I read this passage. I'd say that "Defiant Thomas" is probably more like it. Rejecting the claims of those who had been his friends and his fellow apostles, he says, "Nope - not gonna do it. Before I believe something that big, you're just gonna have to show me."

Unfortunately, that's the story of much of my life, even as a believer. "How can this possibly be true? Are you pulling my leg, or what? A God who loves you, I can believe...but a God who loves me? You're gonna have to show me..."

But here's the part I find so beautiful about this passage, in verse 26:
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.
Can you believe it? Thomas had rejected the heart of the best news the apostles could give him - and yet a week later, Thomas was still a part of the group, together with them in the house!

Weird, isn't it?

It's one of the reasons that I love the Alpha program - because it specifically does not say to the seeker or non-believer, "You MUST believe this!" In the spirit of the 12-step organizations, the Alpha program says, "This is what we believe - this is our hope, and our faith. Have dinner with us, stick around, check us out. This is our experience, strength and hope. Come and see..."

But this passage begs the question, doesn't it? How do most Christians today deal with people who don't want to believe as the group believes? How do many Christians today often deal with those whose beliefs or actions or lifestyles aren't acceptable to the church family as a whole?

Tragically, the history of Protestant Christianity is one of schism and splitting. We find the ones who don't believe like us or live like us, and either we drive them out (as heretics, unbelievers, unclean, unfaithful or blasphemers)- or we split the church into "them" and "us."

But look what happens to the apostles, who put up with the defiant one, the doubter! Thomas is there with them a week later - probably as doubtful and rejecting as ever - and what happens?

"Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' "

It seems that Jesus shows up for the church, even when there are doubters and unbelievers around. Even through locked doors. Perhaps even through locked hearts....

God, help us to remember that the ones who don't live as we'd choose, or believe as we'd choose, are still your children. Help us to be welcoming, inclusive and loving - trusting that your Son will show up, bringing peace and faith to those who need it. Amen.


wilsonian said...

This is brilliant, and just what I needed to read tonight!

Jacob said...

Oh wow, that's a good point. I'd never noticed that before. Good on the disciples for sticking with Thomas.

bobbie said...

this is one of your best posts steve. i love the insight you have given this passage - thank you!