In the midst of the heated quarrel, I doubt they even hear the door closing behind me. I can still hear their raised voices by the time I reach the bottom of the stairs.
Grief pounds through my chest as I leave them behind. Jesus, the one I said I would follow to his death, is dead. The only man who ever chose me over my brother is gone. The one who saw more than the lesser twin, will never again look at me with his steady, accepting gaze. The teacher who didn’t mock my questions, will never answer one of them again.
At first I drew comfort from the others. In three years of following Jesus together, we had grown closer than brothers. Yes, we’d scattered when Jesus was arrested, but each of us crept back to the upper room that night, with a new story, a new rumour of what had become of the rabbi. By the next day, when it was clear that Jesus was to be crucified, fear kept us together. They’ll come for us next. Everyone knows we’re his disciples.
Only John had the courage to leave the room, to witness the rabbi’s execution. It was he who returned to tell us of nails hammered through hands that once healed lepers, and through feet that had walked on water. Of the final, bloody thrust of a soldier’s spear to the side we had all tussled to sit by.
Our beloved rabbi was dead and we grieved together as family.
But then the women came with their hysterical stories. They’d seen him! He was alive! And the inevitable family rifts began. Most of us said grief had brought on the women’s bouts of madness, but Simon was not so sure and John was the first to believe them. When the arguing grew as loud as a father’s shouting, I finally announced, “I’m leaving.”
Now I walk away from them.
The day and night that follows is a blur of aimless wandering, of dodging Roman soldiers, of snatches of sleep among the beggars at the Sheep’s Gate.
In the morning I find myself on the Mount of Olives path. This was where the rabbi took us to get away from the crowds. Maybe I can gain clarity here. Should I return to Galilee, to be Small Thomas again? Scared Thomas. Slow Thomas. At the memory of the taunts, my throat clenches with a familiar anxiety. But to stay in Jerusalem, where I am known as the follower of the despised rabbi is not an option either. I just can’t see the way forward.
Unbidden, the words of Jesus come into my mind. On that last night I had asked him how we could know the way to where he was going.
“I am the way and the truth and the life.”
Fresh tears well in my eyes as I remember those words. Now Jesus is dead. There is no way. No truth. No life. And at this realisation it becomes clear. I need to move on. It’s useless pining for a different time or outcome. I will go back home to live in my brother’s shadow once more.
After I’ve said my goodbye’s.
I pound at the door of the upper room.
“Who’s there?” a tentative voice asks.
I hear the latch lifting. Mary peers through a narrow crack before flinging the door open.
“It’s Thomas!” she announces with a wide smile that warms some of the chill inside me.
“Thomas, you fool!” Simon dashes over and pulls me into an embrace. “Where have you been? We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
“Thomas!” Matthew claps an arm around my shoulder. “You look worse than Lazarus stepping from his grave.”
As I look around at their beaming faces, I feel a stab of anger. When I left they were weeping, their grief as heavy as my own. But a day later…
“We have seen the Lord!” Andrew says.
“What?” I stare at him blankly. Had they all gone to the tomb to see the rabbi’s body?
“We have seen him,” Andrew says again. “Right here. He stood among us.”
I look around at their exultant, expectant faces. Is it possible they all saw a vision? Like Samuel’s ghost appearing to the witch of Endor?
“His ghost, you mean? You all saw his ghost?”
“No.” Simon shakes his head emphatically. “That’s what we thought at first, but he was here in the flesh. Risen from the dead.”
“We even gave him some of Mary’s broiled fish to eat,” Andrew says. “Ghosts don’t eat, do they?”
I have no idea what ghosts do or don’t do, but as they tell the story of how Jesus had suddenly stood amongst them even though the doors were locked, I look from one face to the other and wonder what has happened to my friends.
Is this the same grief-induced madness that assailed the women? Have they convinced each other that Jesus lives because they cannot bear the truth of his death? Or is this something more cruel? Let’s play a trick on Slow Thomas—we’ll have a good laugh at his expense.
“Well?” Andrew asks me when their voices finally fall silent. “Do you believe?”
“Unless I place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Never. I hope the cool finality in my words will dissuade them from raising the subject again.
I had planned to leave for Galilee the next day, but there is talk that some of the others will go too. I wait to see who will join me, and a day stretches into two, then three, then a week. They continue to expound the raised-Jesus-farce, talking about him as if they could encounter him at any moment. Over time I realise that they honestly believe it to be true. John and Simon particularly try to convince me, but I tell them firmly that I refuse to believe what my eyes have not seen.
We are sitting down to share a loaf of bread when I make my announcement. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
I don’t belong here anymore. I’m the outsider—this week has made that clear. Even if I have to make the trip to Galilee alone, I can’t stay in Jerusalem any longer.
A few raise half-hearted objections, but in their eyes I see that they’ll be glad to have Doubting Thomas gone. They consider me an outsider too. I look down at my plate and struggle to swallow down the bread.
Suddenly their voices die down. The room has grown strangely quiet. I look up…
…and see him.
He stands opposite me, behind Simon and Andrew. Everyone is watching him, their eyes alight with joy and wonder, but the rabbi is looking only at me. As I stare into those knowing eyes, filled with the wisdom of ages, I remember. His miracles, his promises, his power. How could I have doubted he could defeat the grave?
“Peace be with you.” The familiar greeting momentarily stills the turmoil that has been inside me since the night of Gethsemane.
I rise as he comes towards me, unsure what I should do. I want to throw myself into his arms, weep on his chest, beg for forgiveness that I doubted him for even a single moment.
He stops less than an arm’s length away from me and holds out his right hand. “Put your finger here and see my hands.”
He knows what I said—that I would not believe unless I touched his hands. I want to say ‘I do believe’ but instead I obey and place my fingers in the mangled hole in his palm.
He takes hold of my other hand and guides it to his side. “Put out your hand and place it in my side.” As I feel the spear-wound through his robe, shame assails me.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. For my lack of faith and the pain he endured to pay for it.
He lays his scarred hand on my cheek and gently lifts my face to look into his eyes filled with tender love. Softly he whispers, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
I believe! Everything he ever said about himself. That he is the Messiah. God’s Son. The great I Am.
I sink to my knees, bow to the ground and declare, “My Lord and my God!”
He smiles. “Have you believed because you have seen me?”
Then his gaze shifts away from me to the window. I have the strange sense that it isn’t Jerusalem he sees.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
At the words, I understand that those timeless eyes are seeing all who will come after me—those who will believe not by sight as I had, but by faith as I should have.
And by the quiet joy I see in the Lord’s eyes I know theirs will be a blessed faith indeed.
(Based on John 20:19-31 and Luke 24:33-43 ESV)
Have you believed because you have seen me? is from a new collection of short stories based on the questions Jesus asked. Other stories in this collection:
Could you not keep watch with me?
Which of these three was a neighbour?
Why do you call me good?
Do you truly love me?
Do you want to get well?
Where are the other nine?
Why are you so afraid?
Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?
Image from FreeBibleImages.org