This way of thinking is a prime example of what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery – the blind acceptance of the superiority of the intellectual climate of our own age, and the intellectual disdain for ages before our own.
Let’s be very clear: humans in the 1st century knew just as well as humans in the 21st century that once a person dies, they stay dead. The claim that Jesus’s body was physically raised from the dead was just as shocking then as it is now.
Twenty centuries of humans have been exposed to the claim that Jesus is alive. And twenty centuries of humans have experienced some level of doubt, skepticism, and hesitancy to believe that Jesus is alive, or that his resurrection has anything to do with us.
So what we find in John’s account of Thomas is actually a personification of our own doubt, skepticism, and hesitancy to believe things that are too good to be true.
We see someone in Jesus’s own day who, at times, also struggled to believe. Sometimes it helps just knowing that we are not alone in our doubt. Thomas spent years following Jesus, was personally told by his closest friends that Jesus was alive, and yet he was still hesitant to believe.
Sometimes we need to encounter people like Thomas when we read Scripture. It can be encouraging to read of Saints who have boldly sacrificed everything in order to follow Jesus; it is also encouraging to read of Saints that seem a bit more like you and me. Peter denies Christ when it becomes awkward to associate with him; Paul spends his entire life struggling with a thorn in his flesh; Martha is, at times, too busy to pay attention to Jesus. What we have in the story of Thomas is someone like us.
Artistic depictions of this scene in John’s Gospel often include Thomas reaching out to touch the wounds of Jesus. This very well may have happened, but John never actually tells us that Thomas touched, or even reached for, Jesus. He simply records that something about his interaction with Jesus caused Thomas to believe. He goes from a doubter to someone who proclaims, “My Lord, and my God!”
The Old Testament is full of talk about Peace, or Shalom in Hebrew. The word Peace is the closest we can come to translating the word Shalom. Eugene Peterson puts it well, “Shalom is one of the richest words in the Bible. You can no more define it by looking up its meaning in the dictionary than you can define a person by his or her social security number.”
Shalom communicates a number of things: it represent entering into a state of wholeness and unity; a restored relationship with our Creator. It is an all-encompassing wholeness that results from God’s will being completed in us. “It is the work of God that, when complete, releases streams of living water in us and pulsates with eternal life.”
The Prophets of the Old Testament tell the people of God to be on the lookout for Shalom. To wait for Shalom. To expect Shalom to finally arrive one day.
So what made Thomas believe? What could Jesus have said or done to convince Thomas that he was who he said he was?
I think Jesus shared the only words that Thomas could hear in that moment of doubt:
Not “Peace is coming, please be patient” but “Peace be with you. Peace is here, now: Shalom.”
Jesus announced to Thomas that, against all hope, new creation is here. Shalom is here. The oppressive enemy has been defeated. The path to salvation has been made available to everyone. Resurrection has begun. Shalom.
So Jesus’s words to Thomas are Jesus’s words to us today: “Peace be with you.”
Rev. Jon Jordan