By Joshua Hearne
It is my intention to publish something once a week (usually on Thursday) dealing with spiritual formation and/or spiritual disciplines/practices. On the last Thursday of each month, I intend to publish one of my favorite stories from my main blog: “Telling the Stories that Matter.”
This month, the story is: Thomas, Apostle, Martyr, Doubter and Believer. (From TTSTM – October 6)
It had all been too much for Thomas. He had been traveling with Jesus for nearly three years and then, suddenly, Jesus had been arrested, tried, and executed. Thomas had invested so much of his hope in Jesus. He had started following him because he talked about having the words of life and about a new Kingdom where things were different. Like many of his friends and family, Thomas dreamed of a world free from Roman rule and oppression. He saw his opportunity to follow after a man who had a plan and so he took it. He hadn’t regretted it until recently. Jesus had always been provocative and unafraid of challenging the powers–Thomas like that–but he had gone too far. He had said too much and it had cost him his life.
Thomas could remember running away from the garden. They had been gathered there while Jesus prayed. Jesus had been talking strangely about going somewhere that his disciples could not go. Thomas was full of zeal for following after this man in whom he placed all of his hope for a better day and a better life. He wanted to go with him like had before when he had met the prospect of a dangerous journey with courage and exclaimed–perhaps, before he thought it out–’Come on! Let’s go with him so that we might die with him!”
Thomas was willing to risk much for the hope he now kindled within himself. Yet, he had run like the other disciples when his hope was seized by the powers, abused, tortured, and murdered.
When Jesus breathed his last on that cross, Thomas’ hope faded. The man whom he had trusted and followed had died like so many other leaders w
ho dared to resist the powers of the world. Thomas settled back into a life of bleak–but safe–despair.
Then, he started hearing word from the others who had followed Jesus–“Jesus is alive!” He couldn’t believe it. He had risked so much of himself to believe and trust Jesus that it hurt him even to think about doing it again. As long as Jesus was in the grave, Thomas didn’t have to risk himself ever again. Yet, he kept hearing the joyful but distressing news. They said they had seen him. Thomas shook his head sadly and told them, “He died. They killed him. They won. They always do.” He knew what happened to people who resisted the “way things are.” They insisted he was wrong. Afraid to hope, Thomas said he’d only believe if he could see Jesus alive before him with the wounds they had laid on his body. For Thomas, it mattered that Jesus still bore the wounds of the powers–Thomas wanted the whole thing to be real and true. He figured his friends were still hanging on to hope and being deceived by a con-artist masquerading as their master. If he could put his hand on the wound, then Thomas felt that he might have room for real hope again. Even as he said it, he painfully hoped to be proved wrong but was confident that he wouldn’t be. Never in his life had he hoped so much to be so absolutely fundamentally wrong.
Jesus came to them. Thomas was amazed. Jesus said to him, “Thomas, go ahead. Touch my wounds. Know that I have been killed but also know that I have beaten death.” With tears in his eyes and hope swelling in his soul, he fell to his knees before the resurrection of hope and life and proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” With these words, Thomas was converted. He suddenly knew what it was that Jesus had been doing. The change he had brought was more than a temporal change of circumstances–it was a fundamental change of reality. In the face of doubt, fear, domination, abuse, and death Jesus had proclaimed: Love wins. Hope wins. Peace wins. Forgiveness wins. Life wins.
Thomas was changed and given back his hope but now his hope rested not in a new world order but in a Kingdom not of this world. He went on to be a missionary for the Lord he so gladly professed. He would be martyred, eventually. It would seem that even after he had been arrested for healing and preaching that he continued to preach the hope that had changed his life. He proclaimed the death of death and the end of evil. For this, he was killed so that might not spread his hope among others. In his death, he only further proclaimed a loving God with a life changed by faith, hope, and love.