Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Heartbroken Disciple

They've stuck him with a label throughout history. People have defined him by one story, one reaction, one comment.

He's the doubter. The one who didn't seem to have enough faith to believe without seeing. For many he's become the example of what not to do and who not to be; the defining picture of what faith isn't.

And to that end, many use him as a caution against asking questions and expressing skepticism; the icon for why you should take claims about Jesus at face value from people you're expected to trust.

Doubting Thomas. Not just Thomas, or Thomas the Twin, or Didymus. It's Thomas, the guy brave enough to say he wanted more than the word of his fellow disciples.

How often do we ask why he did so? We assume it's because he had a faith problem. His trust or his intellectual assent or his buy-in was faulty, so the narrative goes. If only he believed harder, he wouldn't have had to go so far as to ask to stick his fingers in Jesus' wounds.

But maybe there's a different way to think about Thomas' need to see for himself. And maybe it stems less from the head and more from the heart.

The disciples had been with Jesus for somewhere between 1-3 years. During that time they called him by many names: Lord, teacher, rabbi, friend. They'd been his followers, his students, his companions. They'd not only learned from him but they'd dined with him, traveled with him, even laughed, cried, and told stories with him.

And after his death, everyone else experienced him risen again. His appearance transformed their fear, hesitation, anxiety, and grief into confidence, renewed trust, relief, and joy.

But Thomas didn't. He missed out of an extraordinary reunion with someone he'd known and followed and bonded with and loved.

Is it any wonder why he'd want to see for himself; why he'd want to experience his own moment of being back with one whom he thought he'd lost forever?

What if his problem wasn't lack of faith, but heartbreak? And that his stated desire to stick his fingers in Jesus' wounds wasn't literal, but instead a need to see Jesus in flesh and spirit for himself?

The good news is that his grief also turns to joy. He is finally able to celebrate with everyone else because he voiced his need--not just cerebral, but emotional--to see Jesus himself.

Resurrection isn't just for our minds. It's for our hearts and spirits. It's for the parts of ourselves that have fallen apart and that we try to keep together just enough to get through another day. It's for the events and memories and sadnesses within us that yearn for some assurance that things can be different and new.

These parts of ourselves need more than a creed; they need what once was crucified but now raised to appear and speak into our broken hearts.

Maybe Thomas is less an example of Doing Faith Wrong, and more of what can happen when we're honest about our suffering.

(Image via Wikipedia)