In John 20:25 Thomas wasn’t going to believe what the other disciples said about seeing the dead Jesus alive again “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side.”
It was a risky move on his part, because who likes being around someone who stands up for himself and refuses to go along with the crowd? Who likes being around someone who’s always questioning what everybody else is excited about? I remember in High School when several of my buddies discovered how easy and exciting it was to shoplift goods from a store, how annoying the party pooper was who kept asking questions like, “Yeah, but – what if we get caught?”
But in reality the party pooper played an enormously important part in making the rest of us teenage boneheads take a brief moment to put our brains in gear before going into action. It takes courage too, because once a group momentum gets started the party pooper is not appreciated. He’s derided, picked on and isolated, and probably called all sort of derogatory names. Recall those men who refused to fight in the last great war – and put up excellent arguments for doing so too – but were pilloried in their towns and villages as cowards and traitors for deserting their country and countrymen. But Britain’s most decorated enlisted soldier in WW1 was a conscientious objector who never fired a shot.
And what if more Christians in both world wars had stood up and said. “No, we’re not going to fight unless you can prove from Scripture that God supports the killing of one’s fellow man”? Would there have been a war at all? And what if more Christians had challenged the obvious corruption and muddle-headed ideas in the church through the ages too? Would there have been a need for Luther? And we remember Luther too, don’t we, for standing up to the bully. And aren’t we thankful he did too, because he brought the reform that was so desperately needed in Christianity.
Luther wasn’t perfect in his own life either, of course, nor were the conscientious objectors in war, nor was Thomas, and nor’s the chap who stands up against a bully. A questioner can be really pig-headed and so negative all the time that no one wants to be around him. Maybe there’s some arrogance and rebellion tucked away in there too, that prevents him ever being able to happily join a group or a team, or a church.
But Jesus chose Thomas.
And Jesus knew what he was in for in choosing Thomas too, because he prayed all night in the choosing of his disciples. Perhaps he knew how negatively Thomas would react to his resurrection. Thomas would obviously want proof before he believed. And why shouldn’t he, when there’d be millions of Thomases to follow through the ages, who would deeply appreciate knowing their questioning, doubting, critical thinking minds are no problem for Jesus at all, and that Jesus can make use of anyone?
No one’s personality is a problem for Jesus, because he can take that raw material in their personality and make use of it. He doesn’t knock it out of the person, as if it’s some kind of anathema to Christianity, or a black sheep among all the lily white ones. He chose Thomas in his raw state on purpose, because Thomas would play an enormously important part in all church history to follow, providing courage and tenacity to those who would see huge cracks in traditional Christianity and not be afraid to reveal them.
But who and where are those people today when we need them? Christianity as a whole has been painting itself into a corner for ages, with its huge buildings requiring massive amounts of money to preserve, and its weird, outdated rituals and traditions that have made the church irrelevant and abhorrent to at least two generations of youngsters, and its myriad number of splits and divisions that have made the church look like a bunch of squabbling brats.
But who has dared stand up as a conscientious objector? Who has dared stand up against the bully of mainline Christianity that demands adherence to its ridiculous beliefs about heaven and hell? Where are the Thomases and the Luthers who say, “I’m not darkening the door of a church again, unless there’s a willingness of the church to put aside tradition and outdated ritual and all the other idols the church worships, and it seeks unity of belief from Scripture alone?”
Hooray, therefore, for the Thomases to come who will challenge, question and perhaps even dismantle this creaking old relic of a.church, and install the desperate improvements it needs. Unless, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic gets to us first, because in the state the church is now in, even a million Thomases could not make a dent in stifling church tradition. But a pandemic can, and it has. Perhaps we could call this Covid-19 crisis the “Thomas Pandemic,” therefore, because of the much needed reformation it is bringing into the church.