Week 4: Thomas learns to follow Jesus
Vicar Bristol Reading
Texts: Romans 8:18-28; John 11:7-16, 14:1-6, 20:26-29
Today, we encounter Jesus through the experience of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples. We hear three different conversations from three chapters in John. It’s truly a gift to read these separate passages together because it gives a fuller sense of who Thomas was and what his relationship with Jesus was like.
In the first conversation, Jesus tells the disciples that he wants to go back to Judea because his beloved friend Lazarus has died.
The disciples are concerned about this plan because Jesus had recently been forced to flee from Judea after angry mobs attempted to arrest and stone him. Jesus would be risking his life to go back, so his disciples advise against it.
But not Thomas. Thomas is willing to go with Jesus. He is willing to face danger, even death, to follow his teacher, friend, and Lord. Thomas speaks up and declares that he wants to go where Jesus goes. So Jesus returns to Judea and the disciples go with him. And just as they’d feared, danger and death await Jesus. Powerful people in the region are plotting to kill Jesus.
This is the setting for the second conversation we hear.
In the midst of a tense and fearful time, Jesus speaks calmly and lovingly to his disciples. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” he says, “Trust me.” He tells them that soon he will have to go somewhere else, but that someday they can go there, too.
That makes Thomas worried. “How can we know the way?” he asks. He’s afraid that Jesus might go somewhere that he cannot follow. That, too, does come to pass. Jesus is arrested and executed and buried. The disciples, still under threat themselves, huddle together in fear, wondering what to do next, without their leader.
Then, one day, Jesus miraculously shows up – a living, breathing, speaking Jesus who wishes them peace, empowers them with the Holy Spirit, and sends them out to continue ministry. What an incredible moment!
Except Thomas wasn’t there. He happened to be somewhere else that day. When the disciples told him what he’d missed, he must have been devastated.
This is the part of Thomas’ story that most people know: how he insists on seeing Jesus himself before he’ll believe.
But maybe Thomas’ words aren’t defiance but grief. They aren’t doubt but commitment. Thomas – who loved Jesus, who would have faced any danger for Jesus, who would have died for Jesus – Thomas wants to be where Jesus is, to go where Jesus goes. How heartbroken he must have been to hear that the other disciples had somehow managed to be near Jesus, but he had not. He says, “I won’t be close enough to Jesus until I can to touch him with my own hands.”
And this leads to the third conversation.
Thomas may not be able to get close to Jesus, but Jesus comes to him – a living, breathing, speaking Jesus who wishes him peace. And just as he’d hoped, Thomas is near enough to Jesus that he can reach out and touch him. He can finally declare his faith in Jesus, in person: “My Lord and my God!”
In response to Thomas, Jesus offers this promise: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to trust.” Jesus speaks this promise to Thomas and the other disciples, who are trying to understand what his physical absence will mean for them. And Jesus speaks this promise to all future disciples, a reminder that it is faith, trust in God, that matters. This word of comfort is an answer to Thomas’ question: How will we know the way to follow Jesus? The answer is to trust Jesus, who is the way.
Of course, faith doesn’t protect you from danger or death, but it roots you in the peace of Christ, no matter what you face.
When you look to Jesus, who is the way, who is the resurrection and the life, you are reminded that even death does not bring an end to God’s promises.
The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not even worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed.
Living as a human, a finite being, entails waiting, longing, pain, and death. But that is not cause for hopelessness, because you can trust in God’s redemption of the whole creation, and that includes you, a beloved creature within that creation. Living with hope means trusting even when you cannot see, when you cannot fully understand, when you do not yet know the way.
You are still called to live for God’s purpose with every day of your life.
That’s what it means to “love God,” Paul writes. To love God is to be called according to God’s purpose, to reveal God through your words and actions, in any and all circumstances.
And when those circumstances involve suffering, even death – you can remember that you are never left to face that alone. God-in-Christ knows those experiences intimately, as we see in Jesus on the cross. And as Paul so eloquently expresses, God’s spirit knows your heart, upholds you when you’re weak, and sighs with your deepest longings.
Whatever your prayer is right now, God hears it. If your prayer is “How will we know the way?” Or “I desperately long to be closer to Jesus!” Or simply, “My Lord and My God!” God hears you, faithful disciple, and loves you right where you are.
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in the God who loves you and gives you peace.