Yesterday was my 43rd Thomas Sunday since ordination, meaning that I have possibly preached this many times on the account of Thomas “not believing” until he had encountered the Risen Christ himself and verified by the visibility of the “marks” of crucifixion.
My understanding of this encounter has gone through a lifetime of development, moving from the Sunday School scolding “to not be a Doubting Thomas” to an appreciation of the complexity of Thomas’ courage and questing faith.
As I was contemplating what further might be said when preparing for yesterday’s 43rd (and possibly final) Thomas Sunday homily, the thought struck me that Thomas could actually be the anonymous “beloved disciple” mentioned at six key moments in the Fourth Gospel and traditionally identified as its bashful author, the Apostle John. After all, according to our account, Thomas had an unidentified twin (Didymus), never named and only mentioned on this occasion.
Now the Fourth Gospel is full of enigma and double entendre and was almost rejected on several occasions from the New Testament canon for its alleged Gnosticism (an early church heresy that feted “special knowledge” and separated spiritual and material realms.)
I have come to approach John’s Gospel as something like the playing out of a Greek drama on a cosmic stage, with each character’s encounter with Christ portraying the questions, dilemmas and struggles of the attending audience, namely you and me. The idea that both Thomas and “the beloved disciple” have represented different aspects of us who are growing in our following has fleetingly appeared in my presentations over the years. But to conflate the two – Thomas and the beloved disciple together – this is a new and exciting thought.
In case I was in danger of birthing a new heresy, I hit Google in the hope of finding some supporting scholarship and found this: The Apostle Thomas as the Beloved Disciple
I found Charlesworth’s arguments compelling and worth exploring invitationally with my congregation, particularly as, over the years, we have had fraternal connections with Christians from Syrian and Indian traditions, each of which trace their origins back to the faithful work of the Apostle Thomas.
I once nominated Thomas as my patron saint because of my constant questing. I guess this will not abate and I hope it doesn’t.