Easter 2A 2005 John 20: 19-31
I would like to begin today with a story about a man named John Crabtree. John Crabtree is an army veteran who was wounded
in the Vietnam War. As a result of his injuries, he received benefits from our government for his disability. One day, John
received notification from the government that he was now deceased.
John wrote a letter to the government, insisting he was very much alive and expressing appreciation for their continuing to
send his benefits. The letter did no good.
Then John tried calling the government—have you ever tried calling the government? John’s phone calls didn’t
remedy the situation either.
Growing frustrated, John contacted a local television station and convinced them to run a human-interest story about his situation.
During the interview, the reporter asked, “How do you feel about this whole ordeal?” John laughed, “I feel
a little frustrated by it. After all, have you ever tried to prove that you’re alive?” (1)
Saint Thomas the Apostle, called the Twin, is listed as one of the inner circle of twelve disciples in all four Gospels.
In the Gospel according to Saint John, from which we read today, he appears in three stories: as the small band made its
way to Bethany, just outside Jerusalem, he offered to die with Jesus; in Jesus’ last discourse with his disciples, just
as our Lord finished saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Thomas interrupts with, “Lord, we
don’t know where you are going – how can we know the way?” and in today’s lesson, appearing as one
who will not believe until he has actually seen Jesus and touched his wounds. He wants proof that the Jesus he knew died
on the Cross was alive.
These are three significant events in the life of Jesus for Christians of any age and they raise important questions: What
price are we willing to pay for discipleship; how do we know the truth, the way, and the life, and finally, the third, although
not obvious, is ‘what is the most important thing in our lives?’ And the first two will have to wait for another
sermon at another time. The third will be our focus today.
But a little bit more about Saint Thomas himself: the tradition has it that Thomas was also one of the Apostle Evangelists
who spread the Good News across the Near East to India. The tradition also has it that he was martyred at Mylapore, near
the city of Madras. People who have visited India have found Christian churches in the Syriac tradition which date their
founding to Thomas in the First Century AD and whose people call themselves the Christians of Saint Thomas.
Jesus challenges Thomas. The Greek is stronger than the modern translations: “Do not be (or become) faithless, but
The Early Church Fathers disparaged Thomas for his lack of faith while at the same time thankful for his skepticism because
it the occasion for reassuring future generations of Christians through his confession of Christ’s divinity: “My
Lord and my God!” he exclaimed once he saw Jesus. He was the first of the Apostles to do so.
Nevertheless, Thomas has been stuck with the label of doubting Thomas or Saint Thomas the Doubter since the earliest days
of the Church. The term “doubting Thomas” is a fairly common idiomatic expression for the reasonable skeptic.
Down through the centuries, two views of Thomas have held sway: one that that his doubt – and therefore the doubt of
any Christian about Jesus is the antithesis of faith; the other that such doubt is the mother and nourisher of faith. (2)
I myself incline to the second in my own personal experience although my ordination requires that ultimately I uphold and
be a guardian of orthodoxy.
But to many modern Christians, especially of the Center in these uncertain times in the Church, Thomas’ honesty and
straightforward questioning is comforting and encouraging in our own faith journeys.
But this story of Thomas the doubter leads us to question what is important in our lives. Two stories and then I’ll
Years ago, when he was an intern in the lower-Manhattan section of New York, a doctor was summoned on a blustery and cold
winter evening to give assistance. A little girl had come to his apartment, banging on the door, asking his help. He threw
on a jacket and followed the child to a stinking one-room tenement apartment, where a little boy, the girl's brother, lay
terribly sick. His parents were hovering over him. Despite the doctor's best efforts the boy died moments after the doctor's
The doctor was shivering, not only because of the death of the child, but because there was no heat in the apartment. The
boy's father took off his coat and gave it to him, saying, "Here, you are cold. Thank you for trying to save my boy." The
doctor realized immediately that this was the only means the family had to say thank you, and so he did not refuse the gift.
Now that he is a prominent physician and quite wealthy, the doctor has other, finer coats. But on two special days he still
wears the coat the boy's father gave him; he wears it on the anniversary of the boy's death and the anniversary of the day
he graduated from medical school. He wears the coat to remind himself what life is all about.
The second story: On another wintry day, a middle-aged woman heard a knock on her door. She peered through the window and
saw two children, a little boy and a little girl, huddled inside the storm door in ragged coats.
"Any old papers, lady?" they inquired. The woman was about to say no when she looked down and noticed the children's shoes,
thin sandals sopping wet from the snow and slush.
"Come in," said the woman, "and I will make you a cup of hot cocoa." There was no conversation, but the soggy sandals left
marks on the hearthstone. The woman provided toast and jam with the cocoa to fortify the children against the severe elements
outside. The girl held the cup of cocoa in her hands, admiring it from all sides. Her companion asked, "Lady, are you rich?"
The woman, looking at the shabby slipcovers on the couch where the children were seated near the fire, responded, “Mercy
no, child.” The little girl, however, rejoined, “But your cup and saucer match.”
Her words struck the woman powerfully. It was plain blue pottery, but the cups and saucers did match. The children thanked
the woman and they left, returning to their task of collecting old newspapers to sell. The woman returned to her tasks.
She tested the pot roast and potatoes for dinner and stirred the gravy. Pot roast, potatoes, and gravy, a roof over her head,
a husband with a good and steady job; these things matched as well. The woman tidied up a bit and noticed that the muddy
footprints of the small sandals were still wet upon the hearth. She decided she would leave the marks when they dried in
case she ever forgot how rich she was. (3)
There’s a luminous and lovely passage in today’s reading from the First Letter of Peter that speaks to us: “Although
you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable
and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Who could ask for anything
But we have seen him. One Third World bishop observed that in his country during the exchange of the Peace, what is said
to others is not, “the peace of the Lord be with you,” but rather, “I love the face of Christ I see.”
And it’s true when you think about it. If we want to see Christ we don’t really have to look any farther than
the faces of those we love and our children and grandchildren, our neighbors, the lady at the checkout counter and those in
line there at TriStar or Food Lion, or the person next to us in church. Love the Christ that you cannot see, and also love
the face of Christ you see in each of his brothers and sisters. This is the Summary of the Law in action. (4)
There’s a banner that a woman made for her husband. It reads "Faith is walking to the edge of all the light you have
and taking one more step."
And that commentator has said that faith is coming to that point where we are standing on the edge of doubt and we can see
no clear path ahead, but we go on in faith. We go on in spite of doubts. We go on in the faith that God is with us. (5)
And that is what is important about Thomas the Doubter and about us.
1. in a sermon by Haydn McLean, Have you ever tried to prove that you’re alive?, on SermonMall.com for Easter 2A 2005.
2. compiled form The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 2d ed; Saints Galore, 3d ed; The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church,
3. adapted from Proclaim, 24 March 2005, Parish Publishing, LLC, 2004
4. Adapted from Barbara Beam, Selected Sermon for Easter 2A 2005, Worship that Works, dfms.org
5. Adapted from Let Me See Your Hands, a sermon by Robert L. Allen in His Finest Days: Ten Sermons for Holy Week and the
Easter Season, CSS Publishing Company, 1993