After a year of online Sunday school, he had lots of questions. This bright 5th grader crossed his legs, leaned forward, pinned his elbow to his knee, and rested his chin on his hand. He cleared his throat and asked his first question which led to deep biblical and theological conversation.
His mother had reached out to me the week before, explaining that her son’s questions went beyond her ability to respond. “Would you be willing to meet with us?” Are you kidding? I thought. “Yes! This is one of the best parts of my ministry!” I replied.
He asked thoughtful questions and was relentless in seeking understanding. As we approached an hour, his mother apologized. I told her that I was delighted by his questions. I told him that he should consider being a theology professor. Then I recalled with them Thomas the Apostle, whose feast day we celebrate today.
Thomas is my favorite! He had courage to ask questions and press for his own experience of the risen Christ. I admire Thomas’ questioning and asking for what he needed. I admire it in this curious and seeking 5th grader, too.
For at some point in my childhood, I stopped asking questions in school. My best teachers encouraged and honored my questions, but my worst teachers shamed me for my lack of understanding. Additionally, the fear of appearing stupid in front of my peers often kept my hand and my head down in the classroom. So, it is good news that John’s portrays Jesus as a “best teacher” in that he honors Thomas’ questions and questioning.
In the Gospel of John, after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, he begins a lengthy talk we refer to as the “Farewell Discourse.” Early on he states, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (13:33b). Simon Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?” (v. 36). Jesus responds, but it seems as though the group is still not getting it because Thomas speaks up:
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:4, my emphasis added).
It was surely one of those “I’m so glad he asked — I was thinking the same thing but too afraid to speak up!” kind of moments. It certainly functions that way for us when we read the Gospel of John. Thomas is an important and helpful model for us. I always delight in people who remind me of him.
On the opposite end of the life-spectrum from the 5th grader, I smile to think of a certain nonagenarian who attended one of my Bible studies. Draped in costume jewelry that would jingle, she would occasionally blurt out after scripture was read, “I don’t understand this! What does it mean?” I was always grateful when she did this because everyone at the table looked relieved that someone had the courage to ask.
I think it is worth noting that when Jesus appears to Thomas and the gathered disciples, his first words are “Peace be with you.” The Teacher is here to give peace. Not to shame. The Teacher has heard and honors your question, honors where you are. You are safe to ask for what you need in your faith journey. Thomas’ desire to know ultimately leads to his response to the Risen Christ, “My Lord and my God” (20:28).
I hear Jesus’ response to Thomas in a pastoral voice: “Have you believed because you have seen me?” and then their eyes turn to look at us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (20:29).
On Thomas’ feast day, find courage to ask questions. Encourage the questions of those in your care. Discover the gospel promise for us: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9-10).
Verdery Kassebaum says
Thank you for this sermon. Several, perhaps many, years ago I came to think of Thomas as a scientist, one who wants to know the truth and needs objective facts to decide whether something is accurate or inaccurate.
Perhaps Thomas should be the patron saint of scientists.