Even with his scant role, there are four key lessons I learn from him:
#1 -- Everybody doubts
Sure, Thomas didn't believe the stories that Jesus had risen from the dead and was walking around Jerusalem once again. But the other disciples didn't believe either! They were hiding out in homes, trying to figure out how and where to start the next chapters of their lives, probably seeing those three years with Jesus as a powerful, fascinating but failed journey.
So all the disciples were in the same boat of doubt -- Thomas was nothing special on that point.#2 -- Everybody doubts, but not everybody admits it
Ah, here is where Thomas was special. He voiced his doubts boldly. That takes guts!
For some reason our world, including the church, values honesty and integrity very highly yet they look down on people who express doubt. Even when it's just honest and natural to be doubtul. Often it's seen as negative, pessimistic or like "giving up" instead of pressing ahead and living as if there's no problem.
I agree that negativity is dangerous and can be addictive. But who is wishing right now that the doubters at British Petroleum would have been heard more readily about safety risks? Because you know they were there, and someone spoke up.
Such a fine line between needless pessimism and normal (or even necessary) skepticism.
Why call Thomas' style of doubt only the former?#3 -- Sometimes, even when you doubt, it's noble to follow your HOPES
In the book of John it is recorded that when Jesus told his apostles he would return to Jerusalem, they recommended against it. The Pharisees, Romans and other groups seldom mentioned in the New Testament (Gnostics, for one) were all out to use Jesus for their own means. And if they couldn't use Jesus, they would likely kill him.
Thomas jumps in and says, "Let's go and die with him." For some reason most of the preachers these days seem to recite this quote in a sarcastic tone, as if Thomas was saying the trip to Jerusalem was a dumb idea.
I strongly disagree. That quote is heroic. These are words from a man who thinks he'll probably be dead in a week because his teacher is leading the group into a trap. But he decides to go anyway. I love that!
I've got doubts about all kinds of things. And while it's honest to express those, sometimes it's also noble to set the doubts aside and take a risk.
#4 -- God is, at least sometimes, willing to meet doubters on their terms
The New Testament shows that Thomas just wasn't going to believe Jesus had risen from the dead until he got solid proof. And Jesus gave it to him, allowing Thomas to inspect the wounds from crucifixion.
If there's a sense of Jesus doing this reluctantly, I'm missing it in the text. I picture Jesus holding out his hands with excitement, love and a bit of pride as he witnesses Thomas making that step from doubter to believer.
And from that moment on, Thomas was one of the most powerful missionaries of the group. History suggests that he traveled farther than any other apostle, and even started churches in India that still exist today.
Thomas. I love that guy.