A few weeks before Easter, I referenced John’s account (11:1-45) of the raising of Lazarus. At the time, Jesus preached among the people until his final return to Jerusalem. Though word came that Lazarus neared death, Jesus remained where he was for a few more days. He told his disciples that Lazarus’ condition would eventually bring glory to God. The disciples likely breathed a sigh of relief in response, not so much because God would be glorified, but because their inevitable demise had been delayed a bit longer. When Jesus finally led them to visit Lazarus, the disciples quickly reminded Jesus that the people had attempted to stone him the last time he appeared there. When Jesus explained his timing once again, Thomas responded “Let us also go and die with him.” I have read this account numerous times, yet I failed appreciate Thomas’s remark until now.
As we know, Jesus and the rest arrived after Lazarus’ death and Jesus did glorify God with when he raised Lazarus. Though Jesus and his followers escaped harm’s way for the moment, I wonder if Thomas continued to worry about what lay ahead. Or, did he simply give thanks that this miracle pleased the people and ensured Jesus’ safety a while longer? In the depths of his heart, did Thomas believe Jesus would die and that he might join him on a cross or did Thomas hope that Jesus’ kingdom would indeed come? We will never know in this life. What we do know is that Thomas’s devotion to Jesus remained throughout all of this. Remember, it was Thomas whose courage prompted him to invite the others to “…go and die with him.”
After visiting Lazarus’ family, Jesus and the disciples traveled on to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Ecstatic over Jesus’ presence, the people gave him a royal welcome. Though the other disciples were caught up in this moment of glory, I wonder what Thomas was thinking. John’s gospel does not mention Thomas again until the last supper when Jesus told his friends that he would prepare a place for them and welcome them into his kingdom. It was then that Thomas exhibited his courage once again when he asked what the others were likely afraid to voice: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth and the life; you will come to the Father through me…” I wonder if this was enough to get Thomas through the next few days?
Nothing more is written of Thomas until John 20:19-31, when John tells us that Thomas was absent for Jesus’ first appearance among the disciples. Far removed from the throngs who a few days earlier demanded Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples felt certain that they would find themselves on crosses as well, so they hid. Thomas, however, was not among them. Did Thomas’s courage empower him to find out for himself what the people were saying about their crucified Teacher? When Thomas eventually returned to their hiding place, he refused to believe that Jesus had appeared. Thomas went so far as to challenge Jesus himself by insisting that he would believe only after he touched the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and the wound in Jesus’ side. When Jesus returned to show himself to Thomas, the poor man fell at Jesus’ feet and prayed, “My Lord and my God.”
I share my thoughts regarding Thomas because I have found myself walking in his troubled shoes more often than I have liked as of late. My Lenten Journey was at best distracting and most often discouraging. Many things beyond my control disrupted the lives of the people I love as well as my own. Though I tried to walk their journeys and “…to go and die” with them, I found myself hapless and helpless. Though I followed Thomas’s lead often, asking, “Lord, we do not know where you are going,” I failed to listen to the Lord’s answers. Rather, I went on my own way, attempting with all my might to repair whatever it was that had gone awry. It was as though I needed to put my fingers into the nail holes and my hand into his side before I would realize that our Lord was very much aware of what was occurring around me.
Fortunately, my experiences this past Lent paralleled those of Thomas in the most important way of all. Though I was absent to many of our dear Lord’s attempts to be present in my life, the Lord God was not absent from me. When I finally noticed God’s presence in the support of my family and friends, in the kindness of a stranger, in the words of scripture and in the strength that suddenly welled up from within when I needed it most, I realized that all would be well in the end.
In the face of whatever is lacking in our lives and in our hearts, we must echo the words of Thomas and pray, “My Lord and my God.” For, indeed, God is with us in everything!
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