A Thomas moment

‘Senior citizens’ remember a line from a Joan Baez anti-war song in the 1960s; ‘when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?’ Well, maybe we are learning at last? There were 10 wars in Africa in 2000. Now there are four. But we learn slowly.

While in prison one day I heard people sing of Thomas the doubter. The group enthusiastically share their experience of seeing the Lord but Thomas laughs loudly in their face, ‘you are all crazy. It cannot be.’ They get even more insistent in their song pleading with him to believe but he refuses.

We know the end of the story: Jesus appeared to him on Thomas’ own terms; ‘put your finger in the wounds in my hands and your hand in my side. Cease your doubting and believe.’ Thomas is overwhelmed by the moment and expresses his faith. And Jesus says, ‘you believe because you see me, Thomas. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

The events of Easter turned the little world of the friends of Jesus upside down. They had been so slow to understand what was happening. Jesus was driven to the culturally shocking extent of washing their feet one by one in a gesture that was intended to shake them out of their day dreaming. Now, at last, they understand and we have a picture of a small community united in heart and mind, sharing what they had so that ‘no one was ever in want’ (Acts 4:34).

Those prisoners were singing about Thomas but they were also singing their way to faith. They were sharing their thoughts and beliefs through their own compositions and nourishing each other in a way that many a preacher might fail to do. In matters of the spirit there was no one in want.

Eight years ago Clayton Fountain died in an American prison. He had had a violent troubled upbringing, had joined the marines and then shot a fellow soldier who had taunted him beyond endurance. While in prison he killed a further four people including a prison officer. The authorities would have liked to execute him but he fell under Federal law and there was no death penalty there. So he spent 20 years in solitary confinement. He had much time to reflect and, with the help of concerned people, he gradually came to change his thinking and began to pray. Over time he had a profound conversion and asked to be associated with – and was accepted by – an abbey where the monks in their cells accepted him in his cell as a brother. He died suddenly and at peace in 2004.

Clayton came to see the wounds he had inflicted on others and on himself and he, like Thomas, came to confess, ‘my Lord and my God!’

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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