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(Text: John 20:19-31)
Thomas the Twin
Thomas the disciple tends to get a bad press. For around 2,000 years now he has been known to millions of people as "doubting Thomas." That reading which we just heard has a great deal to do with that reputation, and yet I have a great deal of sympathy of Thomas.
The historical Thomas
The historical figure behind this tradition is elusive. >> Judas Thomas Didymos
His real name seems to have been Judas, but for obvious reasons people tended to avoid that name and he was sometimes called Jude. He was also called. Thomas Didymos or Thomas the Twin, a double name in every sense of the word since Thomas and Didymos are simply the Hebrew and Greek words for twin.
It seems, then, e have a person called Judas but best known by his nickname of "the Twin." But whose twin? One presumes the other half of the twins was well known among the early Christians, but the NT is elusive on that score as well.
If this Judas/Jude is same person claimed as the author of Jude in the NT, then he is the twin brother of James—and a brother of Jesus.
If the tradition preserved in the Gospel of Thomas is correct, then this Judas/Jude was the twin brother of Jesus himself.
In the end we simply do not know, but the possibilities are tantalysing.
Whatever the identity of the anonymous twin, Judas/Jude/Thomas is always listed among the Twelve. Where some of the names seem a bit uncertain, our Thomas is always included in the list of the Twelve chosen by Jesus.
However, it is only in the Gospel of John that we find Thomas featuring in any of the episodes involving Jesus:
- In John 11 he is courageous and outspoken when Jesus plans to go to Judea and visit Lazarus even though he knows the authorities are looking for him.
- In John 14 and 15 he is confronting and challenging, as takes on the role of leading student in the master class on discipleship being conducted by Jesus. "Tell us what you mean by that, Jesus. Can you explain that a little more, please."
- In John 20 he is cautious yet open to the evidence' refusing to believe any and every rumour in a city fall of such talk.
In short, Thomas is an all-round good guy and someone who does not deserve the label that has been put upon him by thousands of years of uncritical tradition.
Doubt as faith's own twin
Reflecting on Thomas the Twin gets me thinking about the relationship between faith and doubt.
Just as Judas will always be better known to us as Thomas, so his supposed failure to have faith will always control the way we think of his character.
So—for the time being at least—let's accept that harsh and unsustainable judgment of history, and ask what fresh insights we might gain by thinking more deeply about the faith and doubt.
Suppose we imagine doubt as the twin to faith, rather than as its opposite?
- Why do we find it easier to oppose these two realities, rather than combine them?
- Why do we desire certainty and seek to avoid doubt?
- What if doubt -- like taxes and death -- is the one of the few certainties we have in this life?
In yesterday's paper there was a story about two young women who were born as conjoined twins, and successfully separated by delicate surgery shortly after their birth. You may have seen the story. What struck me was the intimate connection with each other which they continue to experience, even some 18 years after their surgery.
They are twins. They belong together. They are not opposed to one another, but each finds some additional dimension of their own reality in their relationship with and their sensitivity to the other.
I invite you to entertain the possibility that certainty and doubt are twins, not opposites.
Doubt is not opposed to certainty and detrimental to faith. Rather, doubt is the perfect compliment to certainty in the continuous dance of life that we call faith.
Doubt as the antidote to certainty
In a provocative opinion piece last week, Clay Nelson from St Matthew's Anglican Church, Auckland reflects on the strange connections between faith and violence, and the importance of doubt in restraining certainty's tendency to coercion and violence.
It was in this atmosphere of religion being everywhere throughout the news, impacting upon the faithful and unfaithful alike, often in less than positive ways, I was invited to participate on an interfaith panel of religious leaders, to discuss a film directed by New Zealander Dylan Burton entitled Chasing God. The documentary by interviewing scientists, atheists and religious leaders from diverse faiths explores the motivations of humankind to believe in something bigger and more powerful than itself, today and throughout the ages.
I did not find it particularly controversial or ground-breaking, but for those unfamiliar, it was an excellent introduction to world religions. he panel discussion was similar to other interfaith events I have attended. There were too many points of view represented to have a meaningful discussion in a short time, and the panelists were way too polite to challenge each other on their differences. Little light was shed by any of us on the subject. No surprise. But there were two surprises. The theatre was sold out, in spite of the $10 price of admission. The other surprise was the make up of the audience. It was not a group I would expect to find in a church or temple or mosque or meditation center. They were certainly way too young and culturally diverse to be found in a typical Anglican church.
The truth the evening proclaimed to me is that most of us are chasing God, even the self-described "Anglican atheist" on my left during the panel discussion or the gentle non-theistic Buddhist on my right. I found myself quite comfortable with those who are in the chase. The panelists I felt less comfortable with were those for whom the chase was over. They had found their God. They raised no questions, acknowledge no doubt, and gave lengthy answers with authority.
It occurs to me that it is in the finding, not the seeking that religions go awry. No one turns in a family member for the capital crime of converting if they still have questions. No one who denies a fellow pilgrim a voice because of her different gender is still looking. No one ostracizes a six year old because her mother wants to be the one responsible for her religious upbringing unless they are blessed with the arrogance of certainty. No one blows themselves up for Allah if they are in doubt.
As Christians prepare for Easter, it occurs to me that what is remarkable about this holiest of days is that it celebrates the God that was not there. They came looking, but the tomb was empty.
At this time of year I long to turn the TV on and see this paraphrase of a controversial Australian tourism ad:
The cross has been taken down ...¨Empty tombs foster faith; not certainty. Empty tombs do not mark the end of the chase, only the beginning. An empty tomb invites compassion born of empathy for those still looking. An empty tomb proclaims God is out of the box and not to be possessed. An empty tomb suggests that God is elsewhere. It is Easter. Hunt God as well as eggs. Eggs you may find, but pray for your sake and the sake of the world, that God will continue to elude you.
We've rolled away the stone ...¨So, where the bloody hell are you?"
The tomb is vacant ...¨
Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but it may be an antidote to certainty's worst side effects.
Easter and our school community
How does all this connect with us as we begin a new term together as a collegiate, a community bound together by our commitment to learning and our shared engagement with the children placed in our care?
This term will fall almost completely within the Great Fifty Days of Easter, and that fact invites us to reflect on how we shall express the reality of Easter in our relationships, and in our class rooms, over the next few weeks.
One aspect will be our experience of a new beginning, perhaps even a resurrection. We have completed out time of suffering. The passion, as it were, is behind us. We have experienced the death of hopes and dreams. But this week we move into the fresh beginnings. This is Easter week. May it also be the start of our Easter term.
Like Thomas the twin, we shall balance our certainties with our doubts.
I invite you to embrace the twins that will be part of our journey this term:
- Hope and humility
- Certainty and doubt
- Strength and compassion
- Authority and service
- Teaching and learning
May we recognise the Christ in one another as we make this journey, and may we find ourselves drawn—like Thomas—into deeper dimensions of faith as we affirm the Christ is amongst us. Amen.
©2006 Greg Jenks This sermon was originally prepared for a Eucharist during a staff development day at Forest Lake College, Brisbane.