I have realized that in the entire time I have been preaching to you from this web site, we’ve never prayed the pastoral prayer that I pray in church right before I get up to speak.
Take our minds and think with them, take my lips and speak with them, take our hearts and set them on fire for You. And if I can’t reach reach these people with my words, push me out of the way and speak it in spite of me.
I prayed the pastoral prayer with you because it is entirely at issue in the Gospel today. John chooses to focus on Thomas, the twin, because he is the one that has trouble pushing himself out of the way and believing despite his unbelief (Lord, I believe… help my unbelief. -Mark 9:24). However, Thomas does not start out that way. When the heat started to mount, the all the disciples wanted to get the hell out of Dodge (and by that I mean Judea) immediately. Thomas becomes the rat dog with the big ego in the situation (my personal favorite) and says confidently, “which way did they go? Let’s kill ’em all. No room for error, baby.” Whether he actually meant his zeal (and I am just paraphrasing here) is up for debate. When I think of my friends being in danger, the first thing I want to do is run toward it. I have had many soldier friends over my lifetime that if they’d called me from Afghanistan or Iraq and said it was bad they would have had trouble convincing me to stay stateside. I am not trained to do a damn thing, I am 120 pounds soaking wet, but I guess if someone’s knees being bitten counts as “fighting the good fight,” then I’m all in.
And here we find Thomas, ready to step up for Jesus (Onward Christian solllllldiers…..). As I watch the scene in my mind, I can only see me. I can only see the “lead the charge into hell” that Thomas wants, because he’s the mechanic. It’s black or it’s white. They’re destroyed or they’re not. It is as if Thomas isn’t even listening to Jesus, and taking off in a direction completely counter to what Jesus intended. I mean, we’re still on soft power, right? Does this look like soft power to you?
I don’t know about you, but I get to that place A LOT. As an empath, I can feel pain from miles away and I just want to DO SOMETHING, but that is not what my friends would even expect or encourage. It is because of this that I choose to believe Thomas wasn’t being serious. He was offering Jesus what he had- himself. He didn’t have money. He didn’t really have prestige (a follower of Jesus, but not yet a popular preacher in his own right). He didn’t really have anything except a thirst for serving in a way that was concrete…. because that’s what mechanics do.
Jesus is off in his own little world, but not intentionally. He is preparing for who he needs to be and the direction he needs to take. Thomas is the kind of nerd that takes care of the books. I am not saying he actually kept the books for Jesus’ ministry, only that his personality type would have fit in well there…. Ditto for system administration. But you notice, that doesn’t affect his faith in Jesus or his preaching ability. Let’s stop for a moment and address how hard it is for a pragmatic follower to believe in anything, much less a new church that was just taking off with a leader that was kind of known as a nutbag around town.
So you can see his personality straight out… surprising.
Are there times when you get to that place? Does your belief in the concrete system of government and religion stop you from seeing the mysticism that pervades our understanding of each other? As I have said many times, the reflection on the divine is more important than the divine itself. It does not change God to be worshiped and glorified, but it WILL change you.
Perhaps that is where Thomas’ mind resides as he says these words in John 14:5: Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way? Thomas is looking for a concrete answer that doesn’t exist. How do you translate heaven and earth to someone who knows it conceptually but has no intellectual understanding of it? Jesus certainly couldn’t. That’s because there is no intellectual understanding of heaven. It is my guess that as an INFJ, the best Jesus could do with Thomas is to let him do what he needed to do. Jesus wanted Thomas as a follower, but at the same time, I think they would have had a contemptuous relationship (eisegesis: engaged). As I have said before, Jesus and I are the same personality type…… and when I think clearly, the people in my life that I have struggled with the most are the people who cannot live in the abstract. Ever. It’s just not done. I can imagine Jesus’ frustration as he is trying to tell them what he knows, and if you’re hearing it for the first time and you have a pocket protector and a shirt that looks like graph paper, of course you want to touch Jesus’ wounds. You want to examine every inch. You want to comb him like Trapper John and Hawkeye before they hit the still.
Again, if you’re looking for the heart of Jesus, you’ve found him. Jesus doesn’t chastise Thomas for his unbelief. To the contrary, it’s kind of like his attitude is “okay, Thomas…. do what you gotta do.” In my head, it’s like he’s playing operation and I’m waiting for Jesus’ nose to light up (you’re welcome). When Thomas is satisfied, he goes on to tour India, preaching the Gospel, and is now its patron saint.
It has been said that every good sermon starts in Jerusalem and ends in New York, or vice versa. It was Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor at Riverside Church, who said this the first time… and if it’s true, we have landed at La Guardia.
When are we so hell-bent on seeing details that we miss what’s right in front of us? When does our “mechanic” personality take over so that emotion drains and the autonomic system that gets us up and makes our lunches and cleans the house and sets the timer for the coffee the next morning takes over and we just walk, busily along, until the thought of spiritual enlightenment is for other people. We walk away in the interest of Same. it’s not what we want, but it is what we do. It is not reaching for our better angels, but letting them sit where they are.
If you are in this place, hear the first letter of John to Ephesus. The setup is that there are “antichrists” preaching a version of Christianity where Jesus did not bodily resurrect, but metaphysically. John is trying like hell to keep his church together, and is afraid of the possible fracture:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us– we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
He is begging to be heard by other factions in Judaism. YOU CAN STOP LOOKING NOW. WE FOUND HIM. I choose to believe that is because John, as a Gnostic, could not see God. He could feel God, empathy from miles away (or at least, miles UP). He wasn’t preaching to mechanics, either.
John has the ability to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment in his mind’s eye and be healed. It does not take John facts to believe that if you get your ego out of the way and trust in a divine thread that networks us all, you will reap its benefits. He believes that the way to do this is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and his words will absolutely enrich your life if you take them seriously.
But what about the mechanics? Where do they fit if God is all this touchy-feely stuff? According to John, touch Jesus all you want. Put your finger in the hole in his side- honey badger don’t care. If that’s what you need to believe, I’m all for it. The Dude abides. Eventually, though. There’s a leap. New shit comes to light, and Thomas jumps up in recognition.
The mechanic made good when he stopped looking with his eyes, and in effect, that is what we are asked to do. We are called to carry on Christ’s messages of love, forgiveness, and breathing through that whole retribution thing. We are called to live those messages because Jesus has blessed those who don’t believe as well (Jesus said to him (Thomas), Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.).
My guess is that Jesus wants to offer an invitation, and see who shows up.
Are you in? Bring Jell-o.