Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house and Thomas was with them. John 20:26
"I wonder where they are and if they are still together," thought Thomas as he ate supper with his sister and her family. They were on his mind, but it did not make much sense to hang around with them behind closed doors, scared to death and hardly daring to speak out loud.
He smiled as he thought of his usually brave, but now timid and jumpy, friends. Not that he was any different. That's why he didn't get together with them. What was the point?
"No, it is better to be here with my sister and her family," he thought.
"Uncle Thomas," said young Peter, "Tell us that funny story about Jesus again.
"I can't now, Peter. I'll tell you later. Pass the matzo."
Peter was disappointed. So was Miriam, Thomas' little niece.
"They are great guys," he continued to think, "but I didn't choose them, I chose to follow Jesus. Now that he's gone I've got other things to do than hanging around with the boys. Maybe it's time to make a family. Besides, I like being around my nieces and nephews. This is my chance to be with them. After I spend some me here with Johanna and her children, I'll visit brother Mark and his family in Galilee.
"Uncle Thomas, will you play with us tonight?" asked Peter, politely.
When Thomas looked at little Peter he thought of big Peter — the Rock. He smiled. He liked thinking about the Rock. "I don't feel so bad," he thought. "Jesus is gone but what a time we had. We saw and did enough during the last 3 years to give ourselves plenty to think about the rest of our lives."
"Maybe later," he said.
The children excused themselves, leaving Thomas and Johanna at the table. Thomas continued to sit there thinking.
"What did Hannah have to say?" asked Johanna breaking into her brother's chain of thought.
"She said that Mary Magdalene talked with Jesus this morning. Mary claims, according to Hannah, that Jesus has risen from death and that he is alive."
"That's wonderful news, Thomas. Why didn't you say something sooner?"
"I doubt it is true, Johanna, and I didn't want to say anything around the children."
"Thomas! Mary doesn't lie. Neither does Hannah."
"I know. It's not that I think they are lying. It's just that visions, especially visions born out of hope and love, can be taken for real. I believe Mary encountered Jesus, but not in the flesh."
"I see what you mean, but I think Mary would know the difference. I don't think you want to believe, Thomas."
"It's not that, Johanna. But what can it mean? Do we have to start wandering about the country again? Face Pilate and Herod again?
"I don't know, Thomas. But certainly it is good news if Jesus is alive."
"True. But I want to touch him for myself and get instructions from him personally before I jump on the wagon. Hannah said explicitly that Mary did not embrace Jesus. Can you imagine that, if it was Jesus in the flesh?"
"Well, if any of the brethren come here to tell me about this, I'll tell them that I'll believe when I can stick my fingers in his side."
"You're impossible, Thomas."
"Johanna, you know that I don't pretend to understand when I don't. That's why Rabonni liked me. He is the only one I have ever met who is more of a realist than I am."
"I know, Thomas, but just pass along anything you hear so I can make my own judgements."
"Don't set yourself up for disappointment, Johanna," said Thomas kindly.
Miriam called into the room. "Will you come play now, Uncle Thomas?"
Thomas smiled at Johanna and she at him.
Monday Day I
Thomas looked up from the work he was doing for his sister to see two men approaching. They looked familiar. As they drew near, he saw that they were his friends, Peter and John.
"I wonder what they want?" he thought. He was glad to see them but he was nervous about their coming. He hoped they didn't want him to go somewhere or to do something. Who could know what they might have on their minds?
"Thomas," said John as they came up to him, "Wait 'til you here this."
"I can wait."
"We saw Jesus."
"In the upper room at Mary and Martha's place."
"I bet. What was he like?"
"He was like himself," said Peter. "The amazing thing was that he just appeared in the room."
"You mean some sort of miracle?" asked Thomas with evident, premeditated skepticism. "He probably slipped in while you weren't paying attention."
"He couldn't have;" replied John, "the doors were shut."
Thomas let this go. "How do you know it was Jesus?"
"He showed us his hands and his side. He gave us a good laugh like only he can do." Though this comment began to penetrate Thomas' skepticism a bit, he didn't let on.
"What did he say?"
Peter and John skipped the funny stuff that Thomas was interested in. "He said, 'Peace be with you: as my father has sent me, so send I you.' "
"Send you were?"
"He breathed on us."
"How did it smell?"
"Thomas!" said John, annoyed, but trying to remember what had happened and how it did smell.
"Never mind," said Peter. "He said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you remit the sins of any, they are remitted; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
"Pretty big stuff. Will you remit mine?"
"Sure. But look, Thomas (Peter said 'toe-moose' which was how the friends, following Jesus' lead, liked to say his name), we don't want to argue with you. We just want you to know the good news. He asked for you, by the way."
Thomas did not dare to let go of himself. "Here's the way it is with me, my friends," he said, going quickly into his prepared line before he lost his perspective, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into those prints and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe."
"I thought you might say something like that, Thomas. Knowing you, I'm not offended," replied Peter. "But I hope you will gather with us this coming Sabbath in Bethany. Come sooner if you like. We gather there regularly."
"I'll think about it. Come in and greet my sister and her children. They will be glad to see you, but don't say anything about this business."
"As you wish," said Peter.
Tuesday Day 2
The sun was warm but the Jerusalem day was pleasant as usual. The streets were filled with people. Thomas was enjoying himself. This was the first time in a long time that he had watched people. He had been watching Jesus so closely the past few years that he hadn't really watched what was going on with other people except as Jesus would point things out. In that respect he had been intensely attentive to things and people around him, but now it was different. He wasn't relating through anyone. It was a good feeling. He felt thankful. He thanked Jesus in his mind.
"Hello," he nodded to a pleasant old lady. He liked to greet people indiscriminately. He had learned the art from Jesus. Thomas took pleasure in remembering the personal conversations Jesus would strike up with people in the most unlikely circumstances. Often, the people he conversed with did not expect anyone to take notice of them and a greeting would take them by surprise.
As Thomas surveyed the people around him now, he thought," Look how busy and happy people are as they go about their affairs. This is real life. This is what it is all about."
"Oops! Excuse me," he said with chagrin to an older gentleman he had just bumped soundly. The man grumbled but accepted Thomas' apology.
"Uncle Thomas, what are you thinking about?" chuckled Miriam.
"You almost flattened that man," laughed Peter.
Thomas shrugged his shoulders clownishly and they all laughed.
Peter and Miriam loved this. They loved going to market. There was so much going on, so many people, so many things. Food, garments, toys. "Toys," thought Peter, "that's what it's all about." He was a precocious boy of 12 and he had heard Thomas and his friends talk like that. They used phrases like: "That's what it's all about." 'That's what matters." 'That's the true meaning of it." He liked to use these phrases for the fun of it.
Peter wanted Thomas and Miriam to go to his favorite stand to look at the toys. This was no problem because Miriam wanted to go there, too, and Uncle Thomas would do whatever they wanted. The problem was to keep Uncle Thomas moving. He might get into a conversation with someone and cause delays. "It's hard to keep adults focused," Peter thought.
In the case of his uncle, Peter's thought was not an overstatement. Thomas was like that. He was ready to break into a conversation anytime with anyone especially now. At the moment, though, he wanted to talk only with people he didn't know. He desired spontaneous meetings, out of the blue, like when he bumped into someone and got a personal conversation going. Now he had the chance to be on his own and practice the art for himself, as they had when he and Matthew had been on their mission.
But today he didn't mind moving along. He really wanted to be with the kids more than anyone else anyway.
Wednesday Day 3
Thomas awoke. It was early. He lay there thinking. Except in a way, he had no thoughts. After a long, lapse he would rouse himself with the question, "What was I thinking about?" The answer was usually another long lapse.
He stirred. He heard birds outside. The children were asleep. That was good. It would be hot again today. Thomas realized that he had hardly spoken with his sister, Johanna. She was good about leaving him alone. She mostly liked having him about with the children. Anything more was extra. "She is a wonderful host and friend," thought Thomas. "I'm glad I can do some things for her."
Thomas was doing a few things for her, very few. He was doing something with the kids. Whatever he did made Johanna happy, and when he white-washed a room on top of it, she felt really blessed. Thomas hoped she did anyway, since he also wanted to be by himself and spent a lot of time away from them all.
So, what about this day?" he asked himself, as he went out into the street and sat at the doorway. Very few people were about at this hour. He sat there not wanting to think and almost desperately wanting to think at the same time. "Think about what?" he said to himself. "About the state of the world and of Israel? About my personal death? About freedom from Rome? As if I care. This civilization and citizenship is just fine with me. About what to do with my life? Now that's a question for which I have no answer. I never have. I haven't thought about it much the past 3 years. I've been too engrossed. Now here I am again with the question and still with no answer.
"I suppose I must admit that the trial and execution of Jesus was a matter of major importance and something I probably ought to be thinking about, but what am I to think? I should write down what has happened before I forget the details. Maybe I' ll do it soon." He knew he couldn't do it now, and he wasn't sure it was worth doing since the whole thing had collapsed with Jesus' death.
Thomas had not heard from Peter or John. Simon had nots topped by. Maybe they had broken up by now. Gone home. Or gone their separate ways — like he had. He didn't really believe that. It was possible, but he thought it more likely that they were still getting together. Maybe they were living together as they had for the past 2 or 3 years — except without him. Thomas felt his loss. He wondered if they missed him, if they talked about him. He hoped they were laughing and not walking around serious and morbid.
Of course on these matters Thomas was uninformed The disciples could be described as serious, but they were anything but morbid. When Peter and John told the others of Thomas' doubt, it was not — as it often had been — of any effect upon them. They knew what they had seen and heard, though they had little idea of what it meant. The first commandment, so to speak or, rather, the first power they had been given, was the power to forgive sins. Wow! But how they were to do that, and what that meant remained unclear although they discussed it at length.
They waited, sometimes impatiently, for further instructions. Their faith was tested because they had no control over Jesus' presence, There was no way to stay with him or to follow him. They had not seen him since the first day of the week. Was he really real? Being together helped because they could confirm their experience and review the facts with each other. They were eager and anxious, a bit frustrated and wondering whether they would really like what would be asked of them, but they were not morbid. And, they could survive and exist whether Thomas was there or not. The best times were times they got into telling the stories of their adventures with Jesus. Sometimes they laughed until they cried, and sometimes they cried until they laughed.
This activity and the nature of the first instruction that they had the power to forgive sins — were sufficient to keep them together for awhile.
After some time, Thomas gave up his thoughts of the brethren and the question of whether they ever thought of him, with relief, as people began passing to and fro in the street before him.
Thursday Day 4
On Thursday, Thomas felt many misgivings. He didn't feel well at all. Even the kids, or more accurately, especially the kids, noticed it. Uncle Thomas was grumpy. He acted annoyed that they didn't realize how much they were getting from him. Miriam did not let it bother her much. She just went ahead and played. Peter had a harder time ignoring Uncle Thomas' bad mood.
Besides the fact that he felt sorry for his uncle and sad that Jesus had been executed, there were some thing she didn't know exactly what — that he wanted to talk to Uncle Thomas about. He'd rather do that, at least for a while, than play.
"Have you seen Simon or Judas lately?" he asked Thomas.
"No," he answered abruptly. He turned to Peter. "Are you referring to Judas Iscariot?"
"There is something you should know. Judas is dead."
"Oh no!" cried Peter. "What happened, Uncle Thomas?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe he committed suicide or maybe he had an accident. I don't know. But he is dead."
"Where did they bury him?"
"I don't know." Thomas was not enjoying this conversation. After all, Judas Iscariot had been a dear friend. Thomas knew how much Peter had liked him.
Peter had loved him. He loved his spirit and his patriotism. He loved the way Judas had taken him seriously when he had visited the master and the disciples. That had been the best day of Peter's life so far. He had loved every minute of it. Judas had voluntarily become Peter's personal host. What a day! How could Judas be dead and nobody — not even his Uncle — know where he was buried?
Thomas knew the question in Peter's mind. He loved the boy. He loved his young mind. But he hated to tell him bad news. There are so many problems in the world. Why think about that? Why trouble kids with that? He knew better. He knew that Peter was way ahead of him. He was thankful that Peter knew how harsh the world was and that the knowledge had not ruined his spirit. Still, it made him uncomfortable because this one was going to hurt.
"It appears that Judas informed the authorities that we were in the Garden of Gethsemane last Sabbath night. That's how they found us and arrested Jesus."
"No," cried Peter. "I don't believe it. Why? If he did it, he must have had a reason," he said, defiantly.
"What's worse," continued Thomas, deciding to get it all out now, "he took money for it."
Peter said nothing.
"Well," he sobbed, after a bit, "he must have had a reason for it. I know he wouldn't betray Jesus or anyone. I won't believe it unless someone can prove it and still I won't be sure."
Thomas smiled in spite of the pain. He loved this boy.
Peter sobbed quietly for several moments. At last he dried his tears and looked at Thomas.
"How come you are not with the other disciples of Jesus, Uncle Thomas?"
"Because I'd rather be here with you and Miriam and your mother than with those old goats when they haven't washed and they're passing gas."
Peter laughed. He loved Uncle Thomas. Things would be OK.
Friday Day 5
Friday morning, Peter and John stopped by again. Thomas and the children were sitting by the doorway.
"Will you join us tonight, Thomas?" asked Peter. "We told Mary and Martha that we had invited you to come, but last night Martha said we had to confirm the invitation."
"Next thing you'll say is that you are expecting Jesus tonight," said Thomas, surprised at his own ingratitude and bitterness. The children were baffled by their uncle's attitude and remarks.
"You can never tell," said young John, with his irresistible smile.
The bitterness passed like a Gash. "Thank you. Tell Martha I'm sorry I can't make it. I will celebrate with my sister and family."
"We thought you might have such plans, Thomas. We will miss you but we pray that you will have a blessed meal."
"It sure is different from last Sabbath," mused Thomas, taking the other two by surprise.
"That's for sure. I'll never forget that night," said John.
"It was serious and it was scary, but I don't know when I've had so much fun," said Peter.
"Fun?" said Thomas. "I suppose." He had never had so much tun either, but he had not thought of it that way. The aftermath had taken center stage in his inflections.
"How about those stories Jesus told while he washed our feet?"
Thomas remembered the slight blotches on Jesus' hand as he dipped the cloth into fresh water, preparing to wash his feet. "Who was getting the water for him?" he asked, realizing that he did not know and had not thought about it until this moment.
"It was Tobias' son," said John.
Young Peter was instantly filled with envy of Joseph, Tobias' son. 'The lucky stiff," he thought. He was glad the conversation moved on.
"Where does Jesus come up with these stories?" As soon as he said it, Thomas realized he had made a slip. He had used the present tense. He was sorry because he didn't want to create any illusions for anybody — himself or his friends — that he was beginning to accept the resurrection story. He was conscious of the presence of the children.
"Excuse me. I meant where did he come up with those stories?"
"Don't worry, Thomas," said Peter with some disgust, "we know your position. How could we forget it? You don't have to state the obvious."
"How can you expect to know the truth if you don't spend some time with us. Do you expect Jesus to make a special personal appearance to you?"
"Why not, John? What's wrong with me? Why shouldn't he? He was my friend, too, you know. He said I was one of his chosen disciples." He wished he had not gotten into this with the children present.
"I'm sorry, Thomas. Don't be offended. I certainly don't know what Jesus is up to. It's just that you are our friend, too. We don't want to lose you like we lost Judas.
"Well, that's not going to happen. I'm just as realistic as Judas, but I didn't feel like Jesus' storytelling was a waste of time, and I got over the resentment I felt when he let the woman lavish the expensive ointment on his feet. Sometimes Judas would get so fidgety when we were sitting around that he would nearly go crazy. Jesus would go on telling stories as if nothing mattered and as if there were nothing that needed to be done."
The other two nodded.
"I think last Sabbath was just too much for Judas," continued Thomas. "We ail knew that things were closing in. Something had to be done and Jesus kept on telling stories and washing our feet. He seemed to pay no attention to the issues or the circumstances. I'm sure that's what got to Judas."
"It's too bad that he didn't stay a little longer. Jesus got plenty serious later and things happened like a whirlwind."
"Don't forget, Thomas, that Jesus told Judas to leave. I think Judas had already made the arrangements."
"Maybe, but he might not have actually done it if the night had not been as it was."
"Listen to who's speculating now," said Peter.
Young Peter and Miriam listened to this conversation, amazed and nervous. What were these men suggesting? Did Simon Peter, John, and the others think Jesus was alive? What had happened last Sabbath before Jesus was arrested? They hoped the friends would not become angry with each other. They were on Uncle Thomas' side, but they hoped he had not offended Peter and John.
"We'll miss you tonight," said Peter, rising to leave.
"No matter what you think, Thomas, if Jesus comes this evening I shall be very sorry that you are not there.
"Remember what I said, I'll believe when I stick my finger in the holes." He blessed them as they departed down the street and turned to look at Peter and Miriam whose faces looked like question marks.
To be continued.