When the day comes, hopefully far in the future that I die, obviously the first person I hope to have a conversation with is Jesus. And I hope I’ll have more to say than just Kyrie Eleison. (Lord have mercy) But after that, one of the first people I would like to have a conversation with in heaven is Thomas. And the simple question I’d ask is: What does it feel like to have been the most misunderstood apostle of all times? We get Peter’s denial and confession. We understand James and John and their scrabbling for position. But Thomas? – We have ascribed a thousand different understandings to his legendary questioning. Slow of heart. Doubting Thomas. Stubborn. A true Missourian – Show ME! Perhaps they are well deserved monikers. But I wonder.
In his defense, Thomas asks for no more proof of the resurrection than Jesus gave the other disciples that first Sunday of the week – “when he showed them his hands and his side.” That is all Thomas was asking for. To see and experience the risen Jesus as the other disciples had the chance to do.
But, what if there was something else to Thomas’ questioning? What if the story of Thomas is meant to open up something in the other disciples and in us who follow Jesus all these years later that we might miss without him? What if Thomas is to the apostles what ‘the Serpent was to Jesus in the desert, and what Satan was to Job in the Hebrew Testament – the kind of tester of hearts?
What do I mean by that? There is a story about a tight rope walker, who sets up a little demonstration over a busy street. He asks a passerby, “Do you believe that I can cross this busy street on the tightrope? Maybe. The guy walks across and then walks back. No sweat. “Now, do you believe that I can walk across this chasm on the pushing a wheel barrow?” It will be tougher, let me see if you can. The guys walks across and back. Still no sweat. The tight rope walker asks again: Do you believe that I can walk across the chasm on the tight rope pushing the wheelbarrow?” I just saw you do it. Of course you can, he says, in a slightly irritated voice. “Good. Now get in the wheelbarrow.” All of a sudden, it is a different story, isn’t it?
So what would it be like to imagine ‘doubting Thomas’ in that light. What would it be to have a conversation with him, not in heaven, but right here and now – about the challenge to ‘get into the wheelbarrow’ in our faith life? It is one thing to move from doubt to belief in our heads and hearts. It is another thing to get into the wheelbarrow by living the consequences of that belief in all the situations of our life.
Two corollaries flow from this. First, for many years as a young priest, I was always angry that the Annual Catholic Appeal was the first Sunday after Easter. What if someone who came to Easter was so moved that they decided to return to the church? And then, what do they get the next Sunday? The church asking for money. “Same ole church, they’d think – always asking for money.” But what if this Annual appeal is functions in the same way that Thomas functions to the apostles? Making sure that the good news of the resurrection gets translated into loving deeds, and not staying locked behind the doors of apathy in our hearts and world?
Secondly, as you may or may not know, the Missouri Bishops have put out a pastoral letter on the Death Penalty in Missouri. Do you know that Missouri has executed one inmate a month since November? And we are on track for a record setting year of executions. They challenge us to find other ways to keep society safe than killing to prove killing is wrong. Thomas would say: Get into the wheelbarrow. Write, text, email, call – let our governor know we will no longer tolerate killing in our name.
“Doubting Thomas” some would call him. I think there is a deeper truth here. This week, and in the weeks to come, take some time to sit, not with doubting Thomas, but the Thomas whom I would call: Practical Thomas. Wrestle with Thomas’ challenge, not just to his fellow disciples, but to believers of all ages. “If you say that Jesus is truly risen, and if you say you believe it, then get into the wheelbarrow and start making a difference. Be it your working directly with the poor, or, standing up against the death penalty as our bishops are urging us to do – get out of the locked room, and lock the door behind you – so that you can’t ever go back to life as it was…