“The Benefit of the Doubt”

Jn 20:24-29 (VOICE)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith
April 8, 1018 
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

 John 20:24-29 (VOICE)

 24 All of the eleven were present with the exception of Thomas. 25 He heard the accounts of each brother’s interaction with the Lord.
The Other Disciples (CHOIR): We have seen the Lord!
Thomas (ALL): Until I see His hands, feel the wounds of the nails, and put my hand to His side, I won’t believe what you are saying.
26 Eight days later, they gathered again behind locked doors; and Jesus reappeared. This time Thomas was with them.
Jesus: May each one of you be at peace.
27 He drew close to Thomas.
Jesus: Reach out and touch Me. See the punctures in My hands; reach out your hand, and put it to My side; leave behind your faithlessness, and believe.
Thomas (filled with emotion): 28 You are the one True God and Lord of my life.
Jesus: 29 Thomas, you have faith because you have seen Me. Blessed are all those who never see Me and yet they still believe.

===

Those of you who know me well know this this is one of my all-time favorite stories in the Bible.

Why?

Because it’s about me.

Oh, I know that most people would say the story of Deborah in Hebrew Scripture should be my favorite. After all … it is who I am named after.  The wise leader of Israel back in the day before a united kingdom.

But Thomas.

He’s my guy!

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have tried to do things on my own, thinking I needed to try everything I possibly could before turning it over to God.

(I’m sure there’s no one like THAT here in THIS room, is there???? LOL)

Doubt takes many forms.

It’s not always refusing to believe.

Sometimes it takes the form of ARGUING … of thinking our way is BETTER than what seems to be unfolding around us.

Sometimes it takes the form of QUESTIONING … of wondering WHY something is happening.

Sometimes it just takes the form of IMPATIENCE about timing … or of … well, YOU fill in the blank of what it’s like for YOU.

 

We have this phrase in common parlance … to give someone “the benefit of the doubt.” And I decided I needed to look that up.

According to Merriam-Webster.com, it means “the state of accepting something/someone as honest or deserving of trust…” and another website defines it as “to default to the belief that their intentions are honest, and not assume malice when there is uncertainty or doubt surrounding the circumstances.”[i]

I can live with BOTH of those.

And the fact IS – both talk about the BENEFIT of the doubt … defaulting to a POSITIVE emotion around the doubt. It sort of continues our focus to ELIMINATE negative thinking, doesn’t it? If we give someone the benefit of the DOUBT, we are thinking that MAYBE they’re right. We are not ASSUMING that we know all the details. We’re a little more HUMBLE if we accept that someone else might be right.

Yet, somehow, we in the CHURCH, seem to hold doubt in disdain!

And often, it’s THIS passage that serves as the rationale for that.

 

In order to understand how that practice got started, we need to re-visit when and WHY the Gospel of John was written. And it raises the question: is this story found elsewhere in the Gospels?

The answer is NO.

Thomas is MENTIONED in the other three Gospels in a list of disciples, but that’s it. No story about him like this.

So what is it about JOHN’s Gospel that makes this story included and important?

 

Well, we get a CLUE to its relevance in the last statement of Jesus: Thomas, you have faith because you have seen Me. Blessed are all those who never see Me and yet they still believe (v.29).

John’s Gospel was written somewhere between 90 and 110. That’s anywhere from 60-80 years after the Resurrection. Right? That means that the eye-witnesses to the Resurrection were all dying off. The Disciples had all been killed … it was a dangerous time to be a Christian.

In fact, the movement was afoot to start capturing Christians and taking them to Rome to be fed to the lions in the coliseum. We are moving into the period of the great Christian martyrs when our foremothers and forefathers were TORTURED for what they believed.

Put yourself in the shoes of the church leaders at the time who knew that their people could face that kind of future. I think the LEADERS would WANT their people to hear the message: Blessed are all those who never see Me and yet they still believe (v.29). It would spur people on keep BELIEVING even through the horrible pain and torture.

 

But I love Thomas for another reason.

He is the ONLY ONE who Jesus comes to and answers their doubts or questions.

Think about it.

Thomas says, “I don’t believe it. And I WON’T believe it unless I see it with my own eyes and touch him with my own hands.”

So Jesus ANSWERS him.

He SHOWS up and he says, “OK. If that’s what you need to believe, then here I am!”

Thomas is able to say out loud what he has to have happen in order to believe.

And, as a result, his needs are met.

His questions are answered.

 

And the interesting thing?

Once he SEES Jesus and he knows that his doubts and questions have been HEARD … he doesn’t NEED to touch him anymore.

Thomas NEVER reaches out to actually TOUCH Jesus, even though the offer is made.

Jesus says, “C’mon. Reach out and touch me. SEE the puncture wounds. FEEL them.”

And Thomas caves right then and there because he KNOWS that Jesus has heard what his needs and doubts were.

Being heard and acknowledged was enough.

That was all the proof he needed because the very next verse, verse 28 is Thomas’ response after Jesus says, “Here ya go … touch me.”  Thomas says: 28 You are the one True God and Lord of my life. My Lord and My God …

Jesus. HEARD. Him.

Jesus KNEW him.

And Jesus knew that Thomas was a man of INTEGRITY! He’s a guy who wouldn’t just go along with the crowd. If he didn’t BELIEVE something, he was going to SAY he didn’t believe it.

If he needed something to happen to get him to a point where he could BELIEVE … he would SAY so.

The OTHER disciples?

Well … Peter said he’d never deny Jesus.

But he did.  Three times.

The others would look at each other in WONDER sometimes and totally not get it. They were out to lunch a bunch of the time.

But THOMAS … you always knew where you STOOD with Thomas.

There IS a benefit to doubt – the DOUBTERS get their questions ANSWERED and their needs MET.

 

Thanks be to God … Thomas KNEW what he needed in order to believe more. He was pretty direct and pretty CLEAR. I need to see THIS … I need to touch THAT. And, in so doing, he MODELS for us, what WE are supposed to do.

WE are supposed to figure out what WE need to have happen in order to believe more. It’s on us. It’s our RESPONSIBILITY.

We are responsible for our own faith journey!

If we don’t know what we NEED, then how will we know when we HAVE it?

 

Or maybe we already DO have it.

 

The GOOD news is that JESUS knows. He knows US. And he knows what we NEED. And he is standing by … ready to make sure that we have what we need in order to BELIEVE.

 

And THAT, my brothers and sister, is the BENEFIT of the doubt.

May God bless our DOUBTS even more than our CERTAINTIES … And let the people of God say AMEN!

[i] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Benefit%20of%20the%20doubt

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