John 20:19-28 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith – April 23, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Just to recap from last week … we left off with:
18 Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.
And now, to continue with our story …
19-20 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.
20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”
22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
24-25 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”
But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”
27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”
28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”
I was talking with a friend the other day and she told me this story about her extended family’s dinner. Picture this … now I don’t know that it’s an exact picture of her dinner, but it’s how my mind pictured what she was telling me:
- Big table
- Probably 8 people on both sides with 2 sitting at the ends
- And at one end was the matriarch of the family, her Aunt Marge (not her real name) who I picture to be about 55 or 60.
- “Marge likes to micro-manage things,” my friend said … another way of putting it is that Marge likes to control things and she NEVER wants to let herself appear vulnerable with anyone else.
- She always wants to feel like she’s in charge.
- The rest of the family puts up with it because Aunt Marge is the Matriarch, but they ALL get really tired of her micro-managing everything and after a day or two, nobody wants to be with her.
- So Marge is in the middle of one side of the table. (You with me so far?)
- And next to her on her RIGHT is her great-nephew, Zachary, who’s a teenager.
- Marge wants the mayonnaise which is to the right of Zachary. And all through the meal she has been telling everyone – many times – to pass everything to the right.
- She keeps REITERATING “pass things to the right” and getting more and more STRIDENT about it. It’s really beginning to get on peoples’ nerves and turn them off. She wants the mayo and it’s going to have to travel all the way down that side of the table … around the end … up the OTHER side of the table … around the end … and then back to her, and people JUST. AREN’T. PASSING it.
- She feels she has to control the situation. She doesn’t want to let on that she wants or NEEDS something so she just keeps saying the same thing over and over again … “Pass everything to the right.” And then FINALLY, something happens.
- Her son, Collin, sitting across the table from Aunt Marge, figures out that she just wants the mayo. And he says, “Mom … it’s ok to ask for the mayo.”
- The table falls silent. Aunt Marge stares at her son. Zachary picks up the mayo next to him and hands it to his aunt who’s sitting at his left and conversation resumes, but with a lot less STRESS around the table.
- Marge remains quiet, eating whatever it was she was eating with her mayo and the whole dinner was SAVED in terms of the energy, upset and TENSION because Collin figured out what his mother really wanted but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) articulate.
Kind of a funny story when we first hear it. Isn’t it?
And yet I bet that there are stories that each ONE of us could tell from similar settings … similar meals, maybe … in our OWN families.
Thank GOODNESS Collin could see what his mother wanted.
And yet he shouldn’t have to. Right? We bring our children up to be able to ask for what they need and want … but sometimes we get caught up in other emotions … not wanting to look FOOLISH maybe … nor wanting to be VULNERABLE.
Maybe, as with Aunt Marge, we feel we have to maintain some kind of “POSITION” and we think that others have to see us as PERFECT and totally in COMMAND of the situation.
Well, when my friend told me this story, I IMMEDIATELY thought of Thomas in today’s reading.
Many of you know this is one of my favorite stories because Thomas DARED to say what he needed in order to believe. He did NOT go along with everyone else – who, by the way, also probably had THEIR own doubts, too. But Jesus had already APPEARED to them … Thomas wasn’t in the room then. And I would’ve felt LEFT OUT, too.
Could he really trust what the others were saying? I mean, this was a BIG THING.
And for all WE know, there might have been some SMUGNESS from the others who saw Jesus … the Disciples and Mary, and Mary Magdalene and whoever else was in the room the first time. On some level they were probably feeling pretty PROUD of themselves … pretty CHOSEN by Jesus that he appeared PERSONALLY to them.
From Thomas’ standpoint, I think he was quite BRAVE to say what he said because a LOT of people would have just gone along with the crowd. Not Thomas.
He said, “I WANT to believe … but I can’t. Here’s what I need to convince me.”
I said that to an employee once. She had been incarcerated for drugs and I was hiring her to clean at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center where I worked. She would be cleaning offices and medical spaces. Drugs would be present. But I had a good feeling about her potential and I flat out said to her, “I WANT you to succeed here. But you’re going to have to earn my trust. I want you to do that, and I will HELP you do that, but it’s not going to be easy.”
She ended up being one of the best janitors we ever had.
And she told me later that knowing I would HELP her – That I WANTED her to be trustworthy – made all the difference.
And y’know what? That’s what THOMAS did. He said, “I WANT to believe, but here’s what I NEED.”
And that is EXACTLY what Jesus GAVE him.
Thomas is the only one who said what he needed. The others never did.
And Jesus gave it to him.
By NOT saying that she needed the mayonnaise, Aunt Marge made EVERYBODY miserable … INCLUDING herself. Thank goodness her SON figured it out because that made things better for everybody … ESPECIALLY for Marge.
There are some people who say that the older we get, the more we know what we want or need.
Well, it might be true that we KNOW what we need, but I’ve also found it true that the older we get the less we will ASK for what we need.
That’s true in every part of our lives, I think.
As children we have to ask for everything. Right? So when we become independent and on our OWN, we take on that responsibility and we don’t ASK anymore. We figure: It’s up to ME to take care of my own needs because nobody else will do it FOR me.
And some of us carry that to a ridiculous extreme as we continue to age.
Let’s face it … I’m in my 60’s.
In my 20’s I could go up and down stairs 2 or 3 at a time … I could haul furniture out of my apartment, put it in a U-Haul and move to the next place with maybe only one friend to help.
Now I call the movers … and I don’t want to have to go up and down stairs any more than necessary.
I can’t do what I used to do.
I NEED help. I need someone else around to accomplish what I used to be able to do on my own.
We HAVE to be able to let ourselves say what it is that we NEED.
We can’t expect others to be mind readers — not even GOD. CAN God read our minds? Of course. But it’s not in OUR best interest to have God do it that way. When we ARTICULATE what we need, we have a different OWNERSHIP in it. We get our PRIDE out of the way and we experience the gift of receiving what we need DIFFERENTLY than if we haven’t asked for it.
That’s what Thomas did.
And then when Jesus DID appear to him and show him his hands and his side, what did Thomas do? Did he touch Jesus as he said he would have to do?
NO! Just SEEING them … just knowing that Jesus heard his needs and answered them was enough for him. Jesus shows him his wounds and Thomas’ reply? “My Lord and my God.” He never TOUCHED him. Just SEEING was enough.
So my question for each ONE of us today is this: What do YOU need in order to believe?
No matter how much you believe right now – what do you need to have happen in order to believe MORE? Is there something you need to SEE, like Thomas?
Is there something that needs to HAPPEN in your life?
What is standing between you and deeper faith?
Answering that is your assignment for this week.
Spend some time with it.
Ask yourself. “If I’m really HONEST with myself … what would make me believe in Jesus MORE?”
Then pray about it and TELL him that. Just ask for the mayo.
And THEN … keep watch. Because SOMEHOW, just like Thomas, you’re going to get what you need in order to believe more.
And so it is …