(Doubting Thomas, Caravaggio, 1602, Pushkin Musem, Moscow)
Northeastern Seminary Chapel Homily - January 19, 2016
(John 20:19-31 & Luke 24: 30-31)
Thomas is a figure of intrigue and mystery. Only one Gospel, that of John, really relates anything particular concerning Thomas, the rest is left to our intimation.
He is recorded in Mark and Luke as one of the disciples, and for any one of us that might be enough; to be called a disciple of Christ. For John that is not enough to define Thomas, and clearly for the pragmatic sceptic, Thomas, this is also the case. When Jesus learns of Lazarus’ death and decides to head to Judea, Thomas remarks in a curious mix of “loyalty, courage and pessimism”, (1) “Let us also go, that we may die with him”.(2) John records Thomas a second time responding quixotically to Jesus’ metaphor of the mansion wherein he is now headed to “prepare a place for you” saying...” and wither I go ye know, and the way ye know”. (3) Thomas does not know, and neither is he afraid to say so: “...Lord we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” (3) It is just these kinds of expressive and reactive sentiments that give Thomas a bad name; and why we know him as Doubting Thomas. Indeed the Germans seem particularly hard on Thomas with some choice vernacular: In Westphalia, apparently the last person out of bed or the last student to appear, is called a Thomasfaupelz or Domesel—which literally means lazybones of St. Thomas Day. I recall, with not a little anxiety, being labeled a Doubting Thomas, when, as an adolescent, I first began to ask some questions about the apparent contradictions that I was finding in reading scripture.
Why is it that the story of Thomas features so prevalently in our minds when we think of the faith narratives of scripture? The implication, not so subtle, was that somehow my faith was deficient, and I should try not to be like him; to be more accepting, accommodating, not reactive, and inquisitive, not quite so crass as to question scripture, and by inference the Church, and my God. Do we remember Thomas perhaps because those of us with at least half a brain can identify closely with his skepticism? Perhaps more importantly, is it that we wish we were not quite so conformist, so mannered and refined, and bold enough a thinker, a reasoner, as he, to question his friends’ claims to have seen the risen Christ?
Scot Bennett is a professor of art at Roberts Wesleyan College. His professional studio artwork combines traditional and representational religious symbolism with contemporary formalist mark-making as an expression and exploration of his faith. He has an extensive exhibition record that includes work in galleries and churches both locally and regionally.
Northeastern Seminary seeks to nurture in each of its students an ongoing personal relationship with the triune God that manifests itself in certain specific behaviors or personal characteristics. Personal spiritual formation chapel services are held weekly for student in the Core curriculum portion of their studies.
1Doubting Thomas - Sermon, St. Phillips Cambridge, April 15, 2007. Preaching and Painting, Richard Higginson.
2 John 11:16 King James Version (KJV) Mid-America Bible Society, 1982.
3 John 14:4 (KJV)
4 John 14:5 9(KJV)