Following Doubting Thomas’ Good Example
Epworth United Methodist Church
When I was in college I went spelunking, cave exploring, with a group of students.
One student with experience with this particular cave said you could walk in at one place
and come out at another. It sounded fun. What he left out of the description was what
came in between. We started out standing erect (as our species is supposed to do). Soon
we had to duck as the ceiling descended and the space darkened. Next, we were on our
hands and knees crawling in the pitch dark. Now, when you’re crawling inside the earth
in the dark you start to wonder what else might be creeping and crawling on those rocks
next to your hands and knees and inches from your nose. Then we transitioned from the
luxury of crawling to squeezing our bodies through a crevice at an angle, with our feet on
the ledge of a bottomless pit, while grasping at the sides of the ledge for dear life. This is
the time I would have turned back, except that the others behind me blocked my escape.
Fortunately, I was following my good friend, Joe Scott, a priest. I thought, “I’ll get
reassurance from Joe, a pillar of faith.” So, I called out, “Joe, how are you doing?” and
waited for his encouraging word. He said… “We could die in here.”
Following Joe Scott reminds me of following Doubting Thomas. We call him
Doubting Thomas like it’s one of those two part, Southern first names like Billy Bob or
Peggy Sue – Doubting Thomas. You’ve heard the story – how after the resurrection
Thomas expresses his doubts and questions about the whole thing. He wants to see for
himself, to touch the wounds of the risen Christ. But doubting wasn’t all there was to
Thomas and the other disciples started out enthusiastically like I did at the entrance
of that cave. They were excited to follow Jesus. But when it got really scary, when death
looked imminent, since they weren’t blocked by others behind them as I was, they cut
and ran – everyone except Thomas. Though Thomas and Joe Scott weren’t great pillars
of faith, they were exemplary practitioners of friendship, willing to travel with others
even into the scariest places.
We see Thomas’ loyalty earlier in the story from the Gospel of John when Jesus
gets word that Lazarus has died. Jesus gathers the disciples saying, “Let’s go back to
Judea to see Lazarus.” They can’t believe what they are hearing. They remind Jesus of
how they were run out of town last time, how people there want to kill him. Thomas
alone says, “Come on, let’s go die with him.” Thomas is the only one who is willing to
go with Jesus into a vulnerable situation, while the others are frozen in their tracks.1
Thomas wasn’t full of faith, but he was faithful. He stayed with Jesus.
Instead of Doubting Thomas we should call him Intrepid Thomas or as Rev. David
Henson suggests, Thomas the Brave. He moved forward in the face of doubts and death.
He was willing to touch the wounds of Christ, the places of suffering. Thomas was
willing to admit his own uncertainty and accompany others in theirs.
Joe did that for me. As I jokingly berated him for his failure as my spiritual
mentor, I was comforted by his presence and for a moment I forgot about those threats
lurking in the dark earth.
As we look for signs of resurrection and search for places of light in moments
darker than that cave, let’s follow the good examples of Doubting Thomas and Joe Scott.
We can accept our own uncertainty and walk with others in theirs, opening our hearts to
the wounded places, the suffering of others. We will be surprised by what we find there.
I was surprised by what I discovered when my life touched the suffering of one of
my dearest friends, Beth. The melanoma cancer she had when she was a young adult had
returned. As she looked ahead at the serious threat to her life, she talked about the love
that had been expressed to her by others. She said, “I feel so blessed.” That was the last
thing I expected and I have to admit I didn’t really get it. She was looking at death and
she felt blessed. In the years since, through my own struggles, I’ve come to better
understand that Beth found light in the darkness of her vulnerability, through the love of
family and friends who stayed with her. Her vulnerability from her own wounds allowed
me to also experience that resurrection of love, shining even in a place of terrifying
Jean Vanier was surprised by what he found among people who can’t hide their
wounds, their vulnerabilities. Vanier was born Canadian and after serving in the
Canadian and British navies he left a promising naval career in search of something
more. His quest led him to train as a theologian and philosopher. He completed a
doctorate in philosophy and taught ethics at the University of Toronto. But this did not
satisfy his longing. He returned to a village in France where he had helped a priest who
worked with people with intellectual disabilities. He was touched by the suffering and
loneliness of two of the residents. He decided to buy a small house and live with the two
men. That was the beginning of the L’Arche Communities where those with intellectual
disabilities live and work side-by-side with others. Touching their wounds has given
Vanier the meaning, joy, and love he sought and has created a model of community
where everyone who walks through the door is welcomed in their vulnerability. He says,
“We have to realize that this wound [of loneliness] is inherent in the human condition and
that what we have to do is walk with it instead of fleeing from it. We cannot accept it
until we discover that we are loved by God just as we are, and that the Holy Spirit in a
mysterious way is living at the center of the wound.”2
When have you been surprised by the healing you experienced when you touched
the wounds of others? When have you reached out in love to someone who was suffering
or to the wounds of the world and found that you were the one who was encouraged?
Thomas is not the last to touch the wounds of Christ and experience the
resurrection. Like Vanier, when we courageously touch the wounds and vulnerabilities
of others we discover our shared humanity and find hope and love together:
“To be human is to enter a greater vulnerability. So how to live that vulnerability
joyfully? One of the ways is quality of friendship, quality of community. When I
go down the street here… I might find that three people with disabilities will rush
into my arms. I mean, they are beautiful, and they love me!... So, the greatest thing
to calm anguish is the knowledge that we are loved. Not for what we do, …. but in
Your own vulnerability is a door into community for yourself and others. You
don’t have to be full of faith, just faithful. You don’t have to be filled with conviction,
just compassion. Be faithful to who you are and faithful to those around you. Our
willingness to acknowledge our own vulnerabilities as individuals and as a society, and
touch the wounds of others, whether on a personal or global level, will give us hope for
our own wounds as a worldwide community. It will lead us to light and hope in
unexpected places, small resurrections rising out of the wounds of the world. Vanier
reminds us that it’s not about being saviors: “We are simply a tiny sign, among
thousands of others, that love is possible…” that oppression and conflict are not
When all seemed lost, when I thought we might never come out of that cave, we
crawled around a corner and saw a light streaming from above into that place of darkness.
It was beautiful! Following Joe took me to places I wouldn’t go alone and led to a light I
never expected in that dark place.
Thomas can lead us to a different light in a world of darkness. Let’s follow
Intrepid Thomas in his candid questioning and his courageous compassion. Let it lead us
to action. Let’s touch the suffering of others in a world full of wounds. We may be
surprised to find light and healing for our own. Amen.
1 My thanks to the Rev. David R. Henson for his insight into the courage and faithfulness of the disciple Thomas:
“The Unexpected Faith of Doubting Thomas,” April 2, 2012
2 Community and Growth by Jean Vanier
3 Jean Vanier’s comfort and joy: ‘What we have to do is find the places of hope,’ Ian Brown, Trosly-Breuil, France,
The Globe and Mail; Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015
4 Community and Growth by Jean Vanier