In praise of doubting disciples

Rembrandt's Doubting Thomas

In each of the Gospel accounts, there are struggles to believe the eyewitness accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. In the Gospel according to Matthew, the disciples are described as gathering in Galilee worshiping Jesus though some are doubting. In Luke, the testimony of the first eyewitnesses is dismissed as foolishness. In Mark, those same eyewitnesses can't even bring themselves to speak. And in John, the testimony of the eyewitnesses is met with unbelief not just once but twice, Thomas being the most notorious of the unbelieving hearers.

This track record of skepticism is a great blessing to us who live so far in time from the day of Christ's resurrection. First, the variety within the written record indicates that each of the accounts is tied to a common event. This is not the record of some carefully crafted hoax; there is too much variation. Nor are these the records about what some might have longed to be true; there’s too much consistency among the accounts for that. Further, all of the disciples, both women and men, come off in these accounts looking less than ideal.

These are the recalled stories of the eyewitness encounters with an actual event that was initially unbelievable -- even for them. It is the actual presence of the risen Christ that drove them to believe otherwise. The testimony of a community that required its own conversion toward belief in the resurrection of Jesus is more credible and compelling than the accounts of those who have never doubted. Something happened to change their minds. Christ was raised from the dead and appeared among them.

As the account of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas closes, Jesus says "Blessed are those who have not seen them yet believe." This is often interpreted as a final putdown of Thomas’ skepticism, but I read it differently. Jesus had appeared again. Thomas was given what he needed and now Thomas is being given to us so that we might find in Thomas' unbelieving ears and believing eyes the testimony necessary for our own hope in the resurrection.

Christ is risen. Be blessed.

Pr. Jim

4/29/14

Image:

Doubting Thomas (detail)

oil on panel (53 × 51 cm) — 1634

Pushkin Museum, Moscow

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

 

Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.