3 July – St. Thomas, Apostle
Today we mark the feast of St Thomas the Apostle – who seems to have suffered a crisis of faith in the wake of Jesus’ execution: unable to believe the reports that Jesus is risen, he seems to have felt that he’d been taken in after all – that neither he nor Jesus are quite what they’d seemed just a few days earlier. He needs real, physical proof to change that feeling. And so, for all his strengths, Thomas been left with the nickname “doubting Thomas”.
Today’s collect highlights the question of Thomas’ “believing”– his inability at this stage to remember Jesus’ predictions of his own death and resurrection. But, it seems to me, there’s the equally important question of trust .
Why won’t Thomas accept what his fellow disciples are telling him? He’s been with them day after day, as they’ve trailed around following Jesus in his mission. He must know them pretty well by now.
Why doesn’t he trust their words about the risen Christ?
We’re not told what they made of Thomas’ reaction to them – but it must have stung a little.
And when Jesus subsequently appears again, with Thomas present, the overwhelming sense of joy might just have had an undercurrent of “we told you so!”
The concept of trust is very much in the air at present: in the race to replace David Cameron as Prime-minister, some voices are asking who we can trust to deliver the best deal with Europe, who we can trust to unite the country and /or the Conservative party. Meanwhile Labour politicians have been making it clear that many of them do not trust their leader to deliver them a future victory at the ballot box..
And, as we’ve marked 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme – military historians inevitably rake over past events, and the perceived mistakes of some of those who were then trusted to lead the assault.
So how do we know when or whom to trust? And when are we right to suspect we’re being taken in?
By happy coincidence, we were exploring precisely that dilemma at school – a couple of weeks ago.
And my starting point for the children was a set of three indicators:
1 – we trust people because we know they have certain skills. If we need a filling in one of our teeth – we don’t just want dad with his electric drill – no matter how good he is at DIY. We need a proper dentist. IF we need to have our appendix removed, we don’t just want someone who is nice and reassuring – we want someone who actually knows how to operate on us safely.
2 – we trust people who we know care about us. If we know that we matter to someone – that they think about us as much as themselves – then we can be pretty confident they won’t trick us, or do anything that will hurt us or leave us in a mess.
3 – we trust people who we know will be there for us – no matter what we’re going through. We learn to recognise “fair –weather friends” and also those who will stand by us in the storms of life, battling to keep the umbrella over our heads.
From all of that we concluded that, ultimately, being trusted is about our core identity – our “character” – that we can become trustworthy people by working at it.
Knowing what we ourselves are good at, and not pretending to be more or less than we really are.
Actively seeking the welfare of other people.
Sticking by those who need us when the going gets tough.
All of those things make us better people – more reliable people – more trustworthy people.
Those are qualities I think we should strive for in ourselves, and qualities we should look for whenever we weigh up the various figures in our public life – whenever we’re asked to consider whom we trust to lead us.
Thomas’ legacy on “trust” is a complex one.
I’ve already suggested that he shows a lack of trust in the other disciples – “unless I see, I will not believe”, translates very readily into “Why should I believe what YOU tell me?”
But what about Thomas himself?
Presumably Jesus trusted him. And yet here he is, apparently at best falling into the category of “fair –weather friend”. He simply can’t see past the storm clouds and is running for cover.
WE recognise in Thomas’ failings the fact that we do fail each other – even good people do sometimes get it wrong, or lose their nerve.
But then Jesus himself effectively steps out with umbrella and welcomes Thomas under – he gives Thomas what he needs to restore his trust – the proof he needs to believe the truth he couldn’t accept.
Through “doubting Thomas” then – we gain the reassurance that even when we do lose heart, God will not give up on us, and that there is always a way back to him.
So Thomas points us beyond “believing”, beyond accepting in our minds that Jesus rose from the dead, to a more profound trust – that God who raised Jesus from the dead can and will always bring hope out of despair, good out of evil. He teaches us to trust in God even in the absence of proof.
When our faith is challenged by events in our own lives, in the world around us, or even from a century ago, Thomas’ restored faith encourages us to trust, even then, that God is always at work, and working always for our good.
He teaches us, perhaps, to weather each storm by clinging onto remembered sensations of sunshine – in times of doubt to recall the times when we have felt closest to God, or when we have sense that he has touched our own lives most dramatically – and so to trust that his presence is real even when we cannot sense it or see it with our own eyes.
In Thomas’ encounter with Jesus, we learn as he did, that we can trust in God NOT for what he shows us, but because of who and what God is.
God’s “character” – God’s true nature is love – and that love cannot fail.