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Why Was Jesus Upset with Thomas’ Lack of Faith?

From modern eyes, it is hard to think Thomas was any different than any other disciples who had already witnessed the resurrected Jesus. Thomas alone had not seen with his own eyes what the others claimed to have seen. And here it is so easy to get pulled into thinking that seeing with one’s eyes is the real issue.

But it is not Thomas’ inquisitiveness and doubt about whether or not Jesus was physically resurrected that annoys Jesus, but rather a very different matter — one that gets at the heart of what faith truly is and isn’t for Jesus. Jesus gives us the clue to what he is thinking when he tells Thomas that the ones who have not seen and yet believe are the truly blessed. He doesn’t mind that Thomas or the others saw him or not, he simply wants their faith to be on a stronger foundation than whether it is verifiable or not.

Thomas’ demand of a sign is reminiscent of Nicodemus praising Jesus for doing miracles. Jesus was upset with both, I believe, because they literalistically construed faith as something they could empirically perceive rather than as something in which they spiritually experienced and ethically practiced. They needed evidence for their faith, so that they could “believe.” This made their faith precarious at best; and superficial, if not deleterious, at worst.

Faith that is belief in facts, history, etc., is not real faith; for faith is about our values, virtues, and trust in that which cannot be proven with empirical evidence. Jesus, in my estimation, was not peeved that Thomas didn’t believe he came back to life; but rather that his faith was still so shallow that he saw faith as what he could intellectually assent to as factual rather than the deeper variety of faith in which we remain true to love, peace, justice, compassion, gentleness, selflessness, etc., no matter what the facts or evidence may be.

The kind of faith Jesus wanted Thomas to have was the kind that would not be dependent on Jesus rising from the dead or not. He wanted him to trust in his way, not in him the person, as this would mean he had learned to follow not the man but rather the Spirit and character of the man.

Thomas had adopted a faith that was a belief “about” reality, rather than a living out and creating a new reality by an ethical and spiritual understanding of how to be in covenant relationship with God, humanity, and creation.

Jesus wants us to live by the same Spirit that was in him; one undeterred by the reality of one’s circumstances, but manifesting the virtues and values that are of God, Jesus, and all who “go and do likewise.”

— Rev. Bret S. Myers, 3/14/2018

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