I Am Doubting Thomas Was A Doubting Thomas
If you’ve known me for a minute or so, you know that there are very few things that stir my vitality for life like being near an ocean. Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, Lake Waco...Well, you get my point. I love the scent. I love the sounds of birds circling overhead and people setting up their BBQs and umbrellas. I love wading into salty sapphire water that is just cold enough to make you shiver and paddling out on a board anyway as the sun is creeping forward. For me, these are the most sacred opportunities to be present and alive.
This Sunday we are engaging with a benediction by the late pastor Kyle Lake from my hometown of Waco, Texas. After his sermons at UBC Waco, the community concluded services with the phrase, “As we approach this week, may we love God, embrace beauty, and live life to the fullest.” While at Baylor University, I attended UBC and would echo this invitation each Sunday before walking through the parking lot and hopping into my Jeep.
Love God, embrace beauty, and live life to the fullest.
This phrase has marked my life over the past ten years more than anything else. I love it. It guides me. It challenges me to be more alert than I currently am. It reminds me to welcome the future with excitement. Similar to this week’s lectionary Scripture, it is an invitation to a complex and vibrant faith in the midst of the unknown–– a call into belonging rather than believing.
The lectionary gospel reading for the week (John 20:19-31) is commonly referred to as the narrative of “doubting” Thomas. Like many people in recent years have noted, I think the characterizing adjective “doubting” for Thomas is an inadequate one. For instance, John’s gospel reminds us that Thomas wasn’t even around for the first Jesus appearance. So, can you really blame him? Secondly, in the narrative, Jesus walks up to Thomas with no demands for his blind belief. Rather, Jesus simply says to him, “Take your hand and put it on my side.” This is an important distinction because Jesus is asking for a faith response. In that moment, the “faith” exists in Thomas raising his arm an extending it towards Jesus’ wounds. Thomas' faith does not fall into conventional categories of cognitive "belief" and "unbelief" as many in modern Christianity would consider necessary for faith. Instead, a faith-full Thomas protests the claims of the other disciples by touching the hands of Jesus. It is his experience of a protesting faith that transforms Thomas’ reality. This slight shift in understanding Thomas as faithful rather than doubting mirrors Kyle’s invitation for us to love God, embrace beauty, and live life to the fullest.
God is inviting us into an experience––to see the world as beautiful, to engage our coworkers and neighbors, to not categorize but incorporate, to sing––paint––dance––play, and to be alert to the call of Jesus to not simply believe with our minds but to reach out our doubting hands in faith.