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“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Date: April 25, 2022/Speaker: Sharla Hulsey
Jesus and Thomas (John 20:24-29)
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.”
26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 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 20:19-31

He didn’t ask for anything the other disciples hadn’t gotten, you know.  I’m talking about my husband, Thomas, who was one of Jesus’ first twelve followers.  Yet ever since that day, people have used his name as an epithet:  “Doubting Thomas.”

Wouldn’t you doubt, too?  The Teacher had died, and now Peter and everyone are saying that he’d been raised, and he had been right there in the room with them, even though the door was locked?

They had seen him, but Thomas and I weren’t there.  Who knows what had actually happened?

No, we had no reason to assume they weren’t telling the truth, at least the truth as they wanted it to be.  But we weren’t there.

They were hiding in that upper room, and there wasn’t anything to eat, so we had gone out to find some food for everyone.  My Thomas is mighty hard-headed, and pretty courageous, and he knew that fear wasn’t going to fill anybody’s stomach.  Somebody needed to organize meals, if we were going to be stuck in that place for very long.  So we did.

But while we were gone, the others said, Jesus had appeared to them.  They had seen the marks on his hands and feet where the Roman nails had gone in, and the wound on his side where the Roman spear had pierced him to see if he was actually dead.

We weren’t there, and what they were telling us just plain made no sense.  So my husband said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  And forever after that people called him “Doubting Thomas.”

It’s not like he just said, “Oh,” when Jesus finally did show himself a week later.  None of the others made the same profound exclamation of faith when they saw him:  “My Lord and my God!”

If it had been Peter, or Nathanael, or any one of the others who had been out of the room that first day, they wouldn’t have believed it either.  It wouldn’t have been because they were lacking in faith; what happened was simply unbelievable.  But once they saw, they believed.

Once they saw, they received the Holy Spirit and were sent out to be witnesses to Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection.

Later, just before he left us, the Teacher said we were to carry that news from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.  And we did.  Well, not immediately; for quite awhile a lot of the disciples stayed there in Jerusalem.  But there came a point when it wasn’t safe to do that anymore, and so we scattered.

We lived in a place that had been conquered by Rome.  That brought with it a lot of trouble—soldiers in our midst, onerous tax burdens, you name it.

But there were advantages to living in the Roman world.  Rome needed to be able to move soldiers and supplies around reliably, so they built roads.  Those roads also made it possible for us to travel fairly easily from place to place.  Rome also dominated the seas, not just the Mediterranean but also the sea to our south, which connected Arabia and Egypt to the far-off land of India.  India was where pepper and other spices came from—and Romans loved their spices.

Our fellow Jews took advantage of Roman roads and ocean routes, and moved all over the known world.  Some of our relatives were among them, including Thomas’ twin brother and his family, who settled in Malabar, in southern India.  Because people from everywhere traded at the bazaars in Malabar, a person with a little ambition could do pretty well there. 

Jesus had commanded us to go into all the world with the good news, and we did.  We didn’t stay in Jerusalem until persecution broke out and everybody scattered; we went to Syria, and Arabia, anyplace we could travel on a Roman road.

Then one day a letter found its way to us from Thomas’ brother.  It said,

Thaddaeus and Abigail, and our children, to our brother Thomas and Idit, and your children, shalom.  It is the middle of the day and very hot, so we write to you from the shade by the seashore.

You must come and visit us.  Malabar is a beautiful place, with so many people and strange animals.  There is a small synagogue here, and we gather to pray every morning and afternoon, and to study on the Sabbath.  Abigail has befriended many other women, some Hindu or Buddhist, and they sit together to sew and talk while I and their husbands sell silk and spices in our booths at the bazaar.

I’m sure you remember the stories of King Solomon’s ships traveling to Ophir for gold, spices, and other goods.[1]  Ophir is the old name for Malabar, and people here still tell stories of Solomon’s ships.  Now the ships that come to us are Roman, but they still come to buy what we have to sell.  Often those Roman ships bring passengers who come to visit family and friends, or even to see if they can set up shop here.

We have a very good life here.  Please come visit us when you can.

May the Lord, the God of our ancestors, bless you.

Reading this letter about life in Malabar, Thomas and I were intrigued.  So we decided to book passage on a ship, and go see for ourselves.  The children were so excited, both to see their cousins—some of whom had been born in Malabar, so we had never met them—and to sail on the ocean, something none of us had ever had the chance to do.

When we got there, we found that Thaddaeus and Abigail were right:  it was a beautiful place.  A person could live a good life there, out of reach of Rome’s oppression and taxes, but still benefiting from Rome’s appetite for pepper, spices, and silk.

We found a place to stay.  Thomas began to help Thaddaeus at the bazaar, where he saw Romans and people from China and many other places we’d never heard of.  Abigail introduced me to her friends, beautiful women in brightly colored clothing so different from anything we had had in Judea and Galilee.

We had always tried to keep to ourselves before; it was hard being a Jew in lands occupied by Rome.  But in India, we didn’t have to do that.  The Hindus and Buddhists, and people of other faiths we had never been around before, are peaceable and open, and our religious beliefs never get in the way of friendship.

But the Jews living in Malabar didn’t know about what had happened to our Teacher in Jerusalem.  They didn’t know what he had taught, or how he had died, or that he had been raised.  Thomas and I told the stories about Jesus whenever we had the chance, and some of our friends—Jews and others—believed in him and decided to become his followers.  Thaddaeus and Abigail and their family were among them.

Before long we had set up a little chapel, and we gathered there to pray and break bread on the first day of the week.[2]

I have often thought about that day when Thomas and I finally got to see our Teacher risen from the dead.  He never gave us a hard time because we didn’t believe until we saw for ourselves.  He offered us the chance to do just that.

But as we knelt before our Lord and our God that day, he looked over our shoulders, toward Malabar, toward Europe, toward the ends of the earth, and pronounced a blessing on all who would come after us, who would believe because of our witness, even though they never saw Jesus in person.

How could we not go out and tell the world about him?  How could we not travel even to the end of the earth, to India, and share the good news with our friends and family there?

There has never been news as good as what we had to share—that Jesus, the Light of the World, shone in the darkness of violence and tragedy, and even after the forces of hatred and violence tried to extinguish his light, it shone all the more brightly.  That light continues to shine, so many years later, even as far away as India, even as far away as lands to the west that we didn’t know the names of.

And millions of people have told the story of the Light of the World, so that millions more have come to believe, even though they never saw Jesus in person; and the world is a little brighter because of the abundant life God has offered us through Jesus Christ.

You all know that story.  Will you tell it to someone today?


[1] 1 Kings 10:11; 2 Chronicles 9:10

[2] A quick Google search reveals lots of stories about Thomas in India, including evidence available outside pious legend that supports the possibility of Thomas having taken Christianity to southern India.  For instance, see https://aleteia.org/2018/05/18/the-little-known-story-of-how-st-thomas-the-apostle-brought-christianity-to-india/.