HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE THOMAS?
April 17, 1996 by Tad Mitsui
Thomas has suffered bad press throughout Christian history, because he did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. He insisted on seeing the wounds in Jesus” hands and side. He is called "doubting Thomas" and thought of as being somewhat among the lesser of the disciples. But I happen to believe that Thomas has been dealt with unfairly by history. I happen to believe that Thomas was merely different from the others. He was honest to express his doubt and stubborn to not change his conviction to join the others. But just like he did for Thomas, the risen Jesus appeared in many forms so that everybody would recognize him. Thus everybody could share in the joy of hearing the good news about the risen Christ, no matter how different they were.
When Jesus first appeared after the resurrection, Thomas happened not to be with his friends. The risen Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to many others in different places. He appeared before two disciples in the village of Emmaus a week later, and was recognized only at the supper table at the end of the day, even though they had spent all day together travelling. He even appeared simultaneously before 3000 people in different places at the same time. Many of them came back to Jerusalem and often gathered together to compare their experiences. At that time, they were still fearful of the public who crucified their master. But they were excited and could not help but talk about the risen Christ incessantly. So they came together but stayed inside, and locked the doors. A few times, the risen Christ walked through the locked doors and met with his followers. Obviously, Jesus in his spiritual body was able to walk through the locked door. But Thomas was not there when all those things happened.
I know what it feels like, when one has missed out on an exciting event. All your friends are very excited about it. But you don”t know what they are talking about. You feel left out. It was like that with Thomas. He said, "I don”t believe it. I”ll believe only when I see with my own eyes the wounds on his hands and his side." I can understand his disappointment in being left out, and how his doubt was caused by unhappiness. I can see me doing that. But there is a difference between Thoams and me. He did not bend because of peer pressure. I am often swayed by the opinion of people who surround me. And I say, "yes" just to be a good sport. But Thomas was stubborn. He said, "No, I don”t believe it. I have to see the mark of nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand on his side." What a rascal! He was an epitome of a spoil sport, a party pooper. How do you solve a problem like Thomas?
What we often miss or do not appreciate in people like Thomas is their toughness. It is not easy to contradict your friends. It takes courage to stick to what you believe and uphold your integrity. Thank goodness for those stubborn spoil sports, who dare to be unpopular for the sake of truth. It is interesting that this doubting Thoams was the one who travelled the furthest among the disciples and started the church in India. In India he was reported to have been murdered because of his faith. Today, the oldest Christian church is in India, older than Roman Catholic Church or any Orthodox church. It is called "Ma Thoma" Church. I have met several people from this church. This church had been largely unknown to the rest of the world for centuries, because the history of Christian Church was written mainly by the Western Europeans, to whom India was beyond the ends of the world. Thomas went to the far East alone, and started that church in the early first Century. It takes courage and stubbornness to do such a things. There is a apocrypha book called the Gospel according to Thomas. The Western Church decided not to include it in the Bible, because it was so very different. It is pity, in a way, that we don”t get to read Thomas” account of the life of Jesus Christ.
We often do not like those people who stick to their guns. We think that they cause trouble by being so stubborn, contradicting what everybody else says. We think that they should compromise for the sake of harmony. We believe that they are bad because they cause conflicts. Shame on us who think that way. Jesus was never angry with Thomas, neither did he scold him for his honest doubt. Jesus appeared in a way which was recognizable to Thomas. He said, "Look at me. Look at my wounds. Touch them with your hands." Jesus was ready to make himself appear in a form comprehensible to a particular person.
We are all different. We all have good attributes and shortcomings. Jesus accepts us as we are, good and bad. Peter was a passionate yet shallow man, for example, who tended to be hasty and thus made many mistakes. He heard Jesus saying that all disciples would desert him when he was going to be arrested and killed. Peter said rather impulsively, "Don”t worry master, even if all others leave you, I would never do that. I would die with you." But that very evening, he denied the knowledge of Jesus three times for fear of being identified as a companion of the man who was being interrogated for blasphemy. When the risen Jesus appeared to Peter, he was on a boat, fishing. He recognized the risen Christ, and he jumped into the lake and swam ashore, leaving the boat, the net, and all the catch behind. It was like leaving the tractor behind in the field with the engine running. John, for another, was a lovely affectionate man. He often leaned on Jesus” chest to hear him speak. But he did not do anything to write home about. He was, what you might call, a "nice" man but possibly weak in character. He lived to be a ripe old age, on a Mediterranean island of Patmos, and became senile. He could not do much except to repeat, "You should love each other." like a mantra. We are all different. But Jesus Christ did not discriminate against people because of their differences. He made himself understandable to everybody, enabling people to engage in different styles of ministry.
However, difference is one of the most nagging problems in human community. We kill each other because of differences a lot of times. One thing we must do is learn that to be different is normal. Thus conflicts are a natural consequence of differences. The Japanese say that we must hide our horns at least on the wedding day. There must be sayings like that in every nationality telling people how to deal with difference. The real challenge is to know how to live with differences and conflicts lovingly. We have to learn to not condemn or reject the differences like we normally want to do, and instead learn to accept them as Jesus accepted his disciples with all their idiosyncrasies. We have to learn to take conflicts caused by differences as natural and somehow find a way to keep loving despite a difference in opinions. We are all created differently but as equals. Conflicts are natural. We must find the way to resolve conflicts peacefully without being overwhelmed by them, without suppressing one side over the other, but through accommodation.
The secret to reach such a state is love. We repeat this again and again in church. The beloved disciple John may have become senile in his old age, but he never forgot the most essential message of the teachings of Jesus Christ, "Let us love one another." So let us love one another. Then our differences will become our wealth – as the differences between Jesus” disciples was a source of richness for the early church – and our conflicts will become friendly games. So beloved friends, let us love each other. Do not doubt this.