When I was a junior in high school, our friends got together to celebrate bringing in the New Year at a friend’s house (as was tradition). That year, I had to babysit my brother, so, I brought him along. He could just sit in the corner and be invisible. As long as he didn’t die, I’d be okay.
We started to play a game called “Screw Your Neighbor.” And the stakes were set. Whoever lost had to put on this green spaghetti strap. (I forget what happened if a girl lost.) Anyway, as fate would have it, I lost. Rules were rules and bets had to be honored. So I strolled into the bathroom and put on this real small neon green spaghetti strap shirt and strutted out of the bathroom. People laughed. Others took pictures. My brother? Well, Lord knows what went through his mind, but he balled up in the corner and started bawling like the little girl he was (I don’t think my brother cries as often nowadays. At least I hope not). It was rather funny.
Years later, I was graduating college and was going to move to DC to attend seminary. So my friends put on a good-bye party. One of the presents I received was a collage of pictures of memories and goodbye notes from friends. In the top right corner of the collage, there’s a picture that I thought no longer existed. It’s a picture of me a skinny green spaghetti strap shirt. I could not believe that one of my friends still had that picture. I probably can imagine why my brother wanted to cry seeing me in that, because I wanted to cry seeing that picture. But there it was, forever to remind me that I lost in a stupid card game and faced the consequences by dressing up as a girl. The collage of pictures sits on my desk, and though it’s tempting to remove that picture once and for all, it serves as a good memory and a reminder that I do not look good in green.
Speaking of not looking good in green, Thomas often gets a bad rap as a disciple. (My English teachers always said I needed to work on my segues.) I remember one of my youth pastors preaching to our kids that Thomas is not a good name to name your kids because he will always be associated with being a doubter (the pastor should’ve known better. There was a good boy named Thomas that went to that church…). But I often think that Thomas being labeled as a doubter rather unfair. I mean, he didn’t know someone there was taking notes and would bring it up every time the story was told. “So, get this man. There was this guy named Thomas… and even as Jesus was, like, standing right there, Thomas wouldn’t believe it!” It’s like, someone caught him wearing a neon green spaghetti strap shirt, took a picture of it, and flaunted to everyone saying, “See? He does like dressing up as a girl!!!” It’s like having a bad picture of you plastered all over facebook and people will always remember that night when you (fill in the blank). Not fair. Because that picture just captures a fleeting moment in time.
It was just a fleeting moment in time, and a rather fair statement to make: Unless I actually see the dude, I ain’t gonna believe you guys. I mean, the dude (Jesus) died. They all saw it. Then this same dude stands in front of the door and says, I’m alive. I’m sure Thomas wasn’t the only one in the room that thought, “whoa… what was in that piece of fish I ate?” I mean after all, Tommy wasn’t even there when everyone saw Jesus. What if he thought that the disciples were going through some kind of withdrawals?
And besides, it’s not like we never doubt, right? We’ve all wrestled with doubt, in one form or another.
But, to limit Thomas as a doubter, I think that’s unfair. That’s like labeling me as a cross dresser. (And for the record, I am not. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)
When we discuss this story of Thomas doubting, I think it’s also important and fair to Thomas, that we bring up John 11 as well.
Jesus just heard that his friend Lazarus had passed and Jesus wants to go back to Jerusalem. His disciples were all worried and asked Jesus, “You really wanna go back to Jerusalem? Dude, they just tried to stone you a little while back. Let’s just hang out here.” (I paraphrased.)
And then, it was Thomas, who spoke up and said, “Let us also go, that we may die with [Jesus].” Thomas was willing to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, even if it meant that they would get stoned with Jesus as well. We don’t know what the other disciples were thinking. But we know what Thomas was thinking. And he spoke up, rather courageously. He was going to go back to Jerusalem with his Rabbi whatever the cost may be.
So, sure, Thomas was a doubter. But it’s a shame that’s how many people remember him as. Thomas was more than a doubter. In fact, we could argue while many of the disciples doubted Jesus’ plan to see Lazarus in Jerusalem, Thomas was not. It wouldn’t be fair for us to be remembered by one mistake we made in our lives or have that one mistake define who we are as a person. He was a good, loyal and faithful disciple, just like the others. (Well, Judas Iscariot… I don’t know how I’d defend him).
And just to be safe, I hope that picture of me wearing that spaghetti strap never gets out. I’d have a lot of explaining to do…