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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, April 28, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 20:19–31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (NRSV)

The infamous Doubting Thomas passage is a Sunday School classic—perhaps in part because it is so visceral and tangible, as the idea of Thomas placing his finger upon Jesus’ hands and side is both laughable and eminently relatable. Thomas—Mr. Trust and Verify—is an effective surrogate for most (all?) of John’s readers, particularly those of us who have been shaped by the scientific method. We will not believe something unless we’ve seen, heard, or experienced it.

John seems to be well aware of this skepticism within his community; it’s widely believed that’s why he chose to include in his Gospel this particular post-resurrection appearance. For me, though, this raises an interesting question for those of us seeking to follow Jesus in the twenty-first century: what is the correlation between experience and belief, particularly in a society that has grown increasingly skeptical about the claims we as a church make about Jesus? While John seems to argue that belief is somehow purer when not tainted by proof, it seems clear that without tangibly experiencing Jesus in some way, we too will fall prey to Thomas’s doubts.

So what does this tangible experience look like? For centuries, it has been moments of transcendent worship, moments of charity or justice, moments of true koinonia (community fellowship)—and these things indeed continue to help us experience Jesus’ presence among us. But as Western Christianity continues to encounter skepticism and doubt, perhaps we need to reflect on how we might invite others to experience Jesus in wholly new ways.

Lord of both belief and doubt, I humbly ask that you help me to experience your holy presence once more—that you might reshape my thinking, actions, and very being into who you call me to be. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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