Thomas: Muggle or Wizard?

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

Do you know the Harry Potter stories — or have you seen the films?  I confess that I’ve never read the books.  They started out as children’s stories and by that time our children were slightly too old for them.  The books, as well as the films also became more and more adult in theme, so by the time that the films caught my interest, I had seen too many of the films to bother going back to read the books.

So, I’m not a Harry Potter officianado and you could run circles around me on the details of even the film version of the story.  But here’s my question:

“Was Thomas a Muggle?”

You see, the one thing I’m really clear about from the Potter stories is that there are two worlds in all of them.  There is the Wizard world and the Muggle world.  And, frankly, the stories are uncompromising in the comparison they make of the two.

The Muggles are completely unaware of the Wizard world.  Wizards blast in and out of their world leaving them confused.  Muggles are constantly preoccupied with mundane tasks of one kind or another and, or a bit of jealousy.  They have no idea that the Hogwart’s Express leaves from Platform 9 ¾ .  Worst of all, they have no idea what the real state of the world around them is in.  They don’t know a thing about the battle going on between good and evil.  They have no idea tha Voldormort, a.k.a., “The Dark Lord” or “He who must not be named,” even exists, never mind that he’s involved in a huge power grab to take control of world.

You see, at first blush, I bet that most of us would say Thomas was a Muggle.  The way that the Gospel story is told, we know — and the other disciples know — that Jesus is alive.  They know what is going on.  The cosmic battle has been won.  The power of death has been broken.  They look and feel like wizards and students from Hogwart’s —well, first year students anyway.  At least they’ve found Platform 9 ¾.

Not Thomas.  He doesn’t believe anything yet and he demands what sounds like Muggle proof.  “I want to touch that wound in his side before I’ll believe,” says Thomas.

After all, that’s what got him the title “Doubter,” isn’t it?  He’s even become the patron saint of skeptics and others who don’t want to take all this faith stuff too seriously.

So why not “Thomas the Muggle” as well as “Thomas the doubter?”

But before you vote that way, let me make a different case…because I don’t think Thomas is a Muggle.  I think he’s actually more like Wizard Harry, before he fully realized that he has those wizardly powers.

You see, early on Harry was more than a little puzzled by Rubius Hagrid’s arrival when he sweeps Harry off to take him to Hogwarts.  And, even after Harry arrives at Hogwarts, it takes him time to get the gist of what it means to be a wizard.  In fact, for most of the time — and I could have predicted this was the case, having taught both college and seminary — it’s Hermione Granger who is at the head of the class.

Even more importantly, it takes Harry some time to get to the bottom of what the backstory at Hogwarts is all about — why he has that scar on his forehead — and why life at Hogwarts is going to be, well, more interesting than your average prep school.  Because, you see, early on in the movies Harry just has flashbacks and intimations that the Dark Lord is after him.  And it’s only with time that Harry discovers the true nature of the battle that is coming between good and evil.

It’s the same way with Thomas.  The other Wizards tell him what’s going on, that Jesus is risen — and it’s taking him time to catch up.  So this demand to touch Jesus’ wounded side is not a Muggle question, it’s a puzzled Wizard’s question.

The reason I think this is because when Thomas finally sees Jesus, all Jesus has to do is enter…

wish them peace

and invite Thomas to do what he said he needed to do —

“Go ahead, touch this wound…”

And Thomas is on his knees with the words, “My Lord, My God.”

Thomas never follows through on his demand.  He doesn’t need to.

So Thomas is a believer and a wizard, not a skeptic and a Muggle.  It just takes him a bit of time to catch up.

What’s interesting about this passage, however, is not just that Thomas is a wizard.  He also becomes the wizard whose reaction charts the way for others to become wizards — including you and me.  Jesus says to Thomas,

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

That, dear friends, is the invitation: It is the invitation of this Easter season.  It is the invitation of our Resurrection celebration.  It is the invitation of our baptismal vows.

“Come.  Believe.  Understand what is really at stake.  Live for what really matters.  Turn away from the darkness, live into the Light.  You have all the knowledge you need.  It’s time.  Be a wizard.”

You see I am convinced that Christians are not meant to be Muggles.

We are solidly tempted to live in a Muggle world…in a world that we — mistakenly — believe that we can control and that we believe is the only real one.  Where we smugly argue that we know what the real issues are.  Where the problems that concern us and the solutions that we offer depend upon right politics, new policies, clever strategies, and the selective use of force.

Where there is no big, defining battle going on.  Nothing worth fighting for or dying for.  Where everything is a shade of gray.  Where it’s not just easy to be cynical about everything, but it’s a sign of sophistication.

Where each day is devoted to work, paychecks, and trips to Walmart.  A Muggle world where we celebrate our questions and we keep a safe distance from Jesus.

But the message of the Gospel invites us to live like wizards.

The Gospel invites us to get clear about the one thing that matters: about who we are and what we were meant to be as the children of God — that we were made in God’s image — and that living into that image is all that matters.

The Gospel asks us what we make of Christ — it asks us whether we are ready to live into the image of God that we see reflected perfectly in Christ.

It asks us if we are ready to trust God’s grace and live in dependence upon God, rather than depend on the Mugglish alternatives that our culture offers us.

It also challenges us to be a different kind of church.  There is way too much of central London and not enough of Hogwarts in our church life these days.  We don’t lead, we follow.  We act as if the world might know a secret or two about life.  But we preach and teach as if we aren’t quite sure.

Wizards have those problems as well.  As the Potter stories develop the bureaucrats at the Ministry of Magic, become increasingly corrupt and self-protective.  They issue statements denying the existence of Voldermort and trouble in the world.  They make endless compromises with evil and they finally become advocates for skepticism and ruthless punishers of those who speak out.

So, you see, just because you are a wizard there is no guarantee that you will get it right or that life will be easy.  It takes courage and conviction and it involves no little measure of risk.  But what’s a wizard to do?

So, my challenge to you is to ask how deeply you are going to live into that invitation today?  Will you let the Easter message shape your understanding of life and inform your choices?

Those are important questions, because there is nothing sadder than to see a Wizard live like a Muggle.


About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.