Beyond Unbelief: An Evangelism Lesson from Thomas
Second Sunday of Easter Lectionary Reflection
May 1, 2011
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.” John 20:27-29
Poor Thomas! He’s suffered over the years from a tarnished reputation caused by an inept translation of the word apistos. Instead of “doubting” Thomas, he was more like “unbelieving” Thomas. In short, Thomas was simply human and in need of real proof. To him, the idea that Jesus came through a locked door, showed the scars of his crucifixion, and then breathed on the disciples imparting the gift of the Holy Spirit was logically impossible. He needed to see Jesus. He needed Jesus to meet him in his unbelief.
You know the rest of the story. A week later Jesus appears behind the closed doors and provides Thomas with the “living proof” he needs to move from unbelief to belief, from skepticism to surety. His confession of faith is simple and profound: “My Lord and my God!”
So how is this story from John’s gospel an evangelism lesson? Simple—Thomas’ need to see in order to believe is pretty much like most folks we encounter who are not immersed in “church culture.” Think about it for a minute. If you grew up in Sunday school, attended church camps and Vacation Bible School, and knew the story of Jesus inside/out, it makes sense. It is likely a part of your world view. You have seen and experienced Jesus in many ways. To most logical, rational non-church folks the Jesus story sounds not only pretty strange; it sounds pretty much impossible—the stuff of fairytales and filmmakers. Believing in something or someone with all your heart, mind, and soul is pretty tough in our post-Christian culture.
It’s not always just non-churchy folks who have problems moving beyond unbelief. In a youth group I once worked with, a young teen who had been reared in the faith confided to me almost angrily “How do you expect me to believe in something I can’t even see, much less touch? How do I know any of this is for real?” Even the most faithful among us can probably count moments of wavering doubt and uncertainty. Belief and unbelief season our lives like salt and pepper does our dinner, modifying the flavor of our faith accordingly.
Thomas gives us courage to admit and own those times when the saltiness of unbelief makes faith hard to stomach. His passionate witness upon seeing Jesus reminds us that God meets us where we need to be met, seasoning our life with a holy fire for living the good news in our daily lives. Thomas also reminds us that people believe by seeing. That means we need to “show” them the gospel by living it out in our lives.
Like Jesus inviting Thomas to reach out and touch his wounds, we must be willing to invite people into our lives. What they know of Jesus may be only what they see in those who call themselves “Christians.” That means we have both great opportunity and great responsibility. Evangelism should not be some complicated program or elaborate scheme. It’s not even about filling our pews, committee rosters, and offering plates. It is first and foremost about inviting others to experience the radical grace of our Lord Jesus Christ so that they, too, can proclaim with certainty “My Lord and my God.”
May this Easter season provide you with new opportunities to show and tell the story of Jesus the Christ, and may resurrection be evident in your every breath and action. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Lord, like you did with Thomas, move us beyond unbelief.
This week try something different and meditative with this YouTube video of “Spiritus Sanctus” composed by Hildegard of Bingen. The nature photography is beautiful.
How about a discussion of seeing and believing and the role of illusions. What does it mean to really see? BBC Horizons produced a wonderful program about illusions called Is Seeing Believing? that could provide a good springboard for a discussion about seeing and believing and faith.
Consider using St. Teresa of Avila’s timeless words in “Christ has no Body.” Ask the children to illustrate and/or act out each stanza. Through this activity help them to understand that they carry the gospel to all with whom they come into contact. You may have to provide guidance and examples, but children are amazing and will likely surprise you with their ideas and understanding. Consider sharing their work with the congregation during worship.
(Photo by Nick Kulas used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)
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