On the Sunday after Easter the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates the encounter of the Apostle Thomas with the risen Jesus.
You know the story. Skeptical about his fellow disciples’ enthusiastic claims of the resurrection, Thomas took a wait-and-see attitude, earning him the moniker Doubting Thomas. But then, when Christ appeared to him, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” There in that moment Doubting Thomas became Believing Thomas.
Two things stand out for me about this encounter. One is clear from the story; the other comes from the later events of Thomas’ life.
1. Jesus’ gracious condescension
Thomas’ fellow disciples believed in the resurrection before he did. But Jesus would not leave Thomas in darkness and disbelief. I think this line from a commonly-used communion prayer of John Chrysostom beautifully captures Jesus’ gracious condescension:
As you humbled yourself from on high for our sake, so now stoop to the measure of my lowliness.
Christ stooped. He made special allowance for Thomas because Christ loved his disciple. He was willing to come to where Thomas stood and enlighten him there. Recall the image of the Good Shepherd that Jesus employed. Thomas the lamb wandered, and Jesus came to get him, to retrieve him, to pull him back into the fold.And the result was powerful.
2. Thomas’ bold life
The same Chrystostom observed this about the subsequent ministry of Thomas:
Thomas, being once weaker in faith than the other apostles, toiled through the grace of God more bravely, more zealously and tirelessly than them all, so that he went preaching over nearly all the earth, not fearing to proclaim the Word of God….
Thomas received much grace, and the impact of his ministry reverberates across many nations to this very day because he served it back in like measure.
Now believing, Thomas boldly ventured further than any other apostle, further than Paul by at least double the distance. He established churches first in his native Palestine, and then Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and continuing the eastward sweep all the way to India. There are indigenous Christian communities in India to this day that find their parentage in the first-century work of Thomas.
Not bad for a doubter.
Jesus comes to us so we can go for him. And the story of Thomas should give us all hope, wherever we happen to be. Even if we’re weak — maybe especially if we’re weak — God will meet us where we are and use us for his glory.