It’s so easy to put people into boxes, categories or ways of thinking about people that may or may not have an element of truth, and from which we make it very difficult for them to escape. We even do it to ourselves.
St. Thomas–you know, Doubting Thomas–may be the patron saint of people stuck into boxes it’s hard to escape from.
Joe mentioned in his post, New York on a Missionary’s Budget (Part 2), that we saw this beautiful artwork in the Cloisters, The Dormition of the Virgin, a late 15th century German wood carving from the workshop of Tilman Heysacker. In the scene, eleven disciples gather around the bedside of Mary at her death. Their grief and affection for her are palpable.
Wait. Only eleven disciples? Who would miss something like that?
Thomas, of course. He’s always absent when something big happens. Like on Easter, when the other disciples gathered in the upper room and the resurrected Jesus appeared in their midst. Not only did Thomas miss the whole thing (where was he anyway?), when the others tell him what happened, he famously refused to believe it “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side” (John 20:24-25).
In loving response, Jesus again appears, and this time Thomas is there. Jesus offers Thomas just what he asked for. Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!” one of the strongest declarations of Jesus’ identity in the Gospels (John 20:26-28).
According to the Golden Legend, a 13th century compilation of legends about the saints, Thomas’s experience with Jesus didn’t change Thomas’s ways when it came to sticking close to the other disciples or believing what they tell him. Thomas wasn’t at Mary’s bedside (where was he anyway?) and doesn’t believe the others when they tell him that Mary’s body was assumed into heaven. (Eye roll. That Thomas. You know how he is.)
Once again, Thomas gets a special gift, pictured in a separate scene to the far right of the panel. An angel drops Mary’s belt down to Thomas so he can see for himself that what the others said was true.
Well, what else would we expect from someone called Doubting Thomas?
In scripture, he’s not called Doubting Thomas. He’s called Thomas the Twin. Twin of whom, we wonder?
Today I wonder if he’s Twin of anyone ever unable to shake off a reputation, get out of a box someone has put them into, shaken free from some category someone else has decided that’s who they are, that’s all they will ever be.
We are all more than the one mistake we’ve made, the one stupid decision, the one really bad thing we’ve done. But it can be really hard to convince others or ourselves of that. Just ask Thomas.
I’m finding myself thinking about the expectations I have of others and myself, not just because of the gift of seeing this artwork, but because next week Joe and I will participate in the orientation required by the global missions office of the Episcopal Church. One of the components will be cultural intelligence training. I expect I will learn more about what expectations I have about others what boxes I have stuck people into, including things I may not at all have been aware of.
Part of my experience discerning about becoming an appointed missionary has been learning more about my expectations about myself, what I think I am capable of, what I think I need. Part of this adventure is identifying the parameters of the box I’m in and then climbing out. Or punching a hole in the side. Or holding up a hand and letting God lift me out.
I am grateful for Ann Voskamp, and for these reminder of hers, from her book The Broken Way:
I am not the sins I have chosen; I am chosen by the Beloved, regardless of my sins. In Christ, I am chosen, accepted, justified.
All the brokenhearted don’t need to try to believe more in themselves, but to believe what Jesus says about them more.