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Learning To Trust

Daily Devotional for Monday, March 29, 2021 from Rev. Eric Douglass


The Monday meditations now focus on the events leading up to Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and death

Meditations for Easter: Learning to Trust

John 20:24-27: But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.”

Historically, nothing is known of Thomas’ background, other than he was called “the twin.” In our story below, I have created a history that makes sense of his failure to believe. This is a work of historical fiction, but true to our text where details are available.  

I don’t know why I have such a hard time trusting people. Perhaps it is because people have always let me down. But more likely, it’s because of my parents.
 
It all started when I was eight years old. My father was a carpenter. One day he was working with a wood chisel, when the tool slipped and cut the nerves in his hand. The priest and the physician looked at the injury, but it was unrepairable. My father lost control of his hand. He could not do his profession. Our family ran out of money after six months. The synagogue helped us for a while, but after another few months, that source was exhausted. We sold the family tools and most of our possessions, but it was clear that we were headed into poverty. Our house would be next, but what then?
 
At this point, my mother sold herself out as a seamstress, creating lovely clothes for the rich. Tunics of fine cloth, robes with shiny collars from woven gold thread, and head pieces of pure white with blue woven designs down the sides. But the money was slow to come in, and not nearly enough for a family. My father became a hauler of trash and waste, carrying this away in his wood-hauling cart. Every evening he came home smelling of the garbage produced by our town. I was so proud of him: he was providing.
 
But in the end, their income was simply too small to feed us. They grew thin. Their eyes became hollow. Unable to stave off the inevitable, they sold me to a rich family who needed a stable boy. At the age of nine, I was abandoned by the only caring people I knew. I was only good for brushing horses, and carrying oats and hay. My boss wasn’t particularly mean, but he treated me like a common servant…and I learned the truth that I was no longer special.
 
After a few years in the stable, I was sent to a military camp…not from any fault of my own, but because a new stable boy was cheaper than a growing teenager: less food to consume and less wages to be paid. I clung to the tunic of my master, begging him to keep me…telling him that he was the only family I had. He threw my hands off his robes, turned on his heel, and slammed the door in my face. I had hoped to earn enough money to buy my freedom and return to my folks…but it was not to be.
 
So, to the military I went, still too young to fight, but making a fine runner. My job was to carry messages between the camps. The soldiers pretty much ignored me. I was of no consequence to them, as I lacked any skills with the sword and shield. Still, I was making cash, and money piled up in my pockets. After five long years of pounding the pavement, I bought my freedom.
 
Upon leaving, I almost immediately encountered this close-knit band of disciples, with their leader, Jesus. ‘Close knit’ was what I needed. It called to me. I had been abandoned by so many that it was hard to trust anymore. So I followed, somewhat at the outskirts of the group, until Jesus one day said: “I will not leave you orphaned” (Jn. 14:18). That was it. That was the key to my heart. A place of caring and presence.
 
Walking the dusty roads with my new family was easy for me. Some grumbled about all the walking from town to town, but this was a minor problem…and minor problems just don’t count. I was at home. I smiled like I hadn’t since that eight-year old child standing with his mom and dad. The rest was unimportant.
 
But then it happened: Jesus stormed the temple in Jerusalem and got himself arrested. The band of my new family dissolved, as each ran for their lives, trying to escape the oncoming assault. I reacted like that eight-year old child, remembering how it felt to be torn from the arms of a loving mother. Too much pain. I cried, and I lashed out in anger to all around me, and I retreated into my dark shell. Never again would I trust anyone. Family was an illusion, meant to comfort the weak. Never again.
 
That’s when the strange—really strange—reports about Jesus came filtering back to me. Some said that he was alive, but I knew that to be a lie. Others said that he had broken bread with them…another lie. A few stated, with the assurance of a fanatic, that they had seen him…absurdity upon absurdity. Never again. Too much pain.
 
On the next Sunday morning, when the clouds were heavy with rain and the wind raked through my clothes, I went to meet with my band of disciples. We had reformed…well, sort of…only a few came at a time. There was a lot of grief at these meetings, and you never knew who would come through the door. I just knew that the next sound would be spears pounding on the door, followed by more arrests and more trials and more dead. I wasn’t sure how much longer I would attend. After all, despite all the promises, Jesus had left us as orphans. Abandoned. My so-called family was disintegrating. And I kept repeating to myself: “Never again…never again…”
 
In the quiet during our communal prayer, there was a sound like wind and a gentle blowing of my hair. Looking up, there he stood. His eyes found mine…they were dark blue…I hadn’t remembered. His face was sad. He came to me…and I felt my shell dissolve, and my self become exposed, and my loneliness melt away. He started to speak: “Put your finger here and see my hands…” But I didn’t need to touch anything. I didn’t need to see anything. I found that I was again home…and the darkness in my soul slipped away.


Our Lord:
 
You never abandon us.
Not even when we fail to believe.
Not even when we run from you.
Not even when we demand proof.
You come to us in the quiet of our hearts,
searching us out when we need you most,
and wrapping us in the gentle arms of
Family.
And so we do not fear.
And so we hold to you.
And so we are at peace.
 
Amen.

About the Author
Eric Douglass is the covenant pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, where his work emphasizes adult education. Writing meditations is a natural extension of this. During the current pandemic, his goals have been to ensure that the folk at New Hanover see the deep connection that they have to God and the community, even though the community can’t meet in person. This connection is not just one of continued fellowship, but of God’s presence in the community. God stands with us, no matter what path we are on. In this way, God acts like the father and mother who refuse to abandon their child, no matter how wayward that child, or how difficult the situation. Psalm 23 captures this perfectly: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, initially earning a degree in biology, and then his medical degree from that university’s Medical School. After practicing medicine for many years, he earned a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Theology from Union Theological Seminary, here in Richmond. Since that time, he has authored two books, frequently delivers papers at the Society for Biblical Literature, and is an adjunct professor at Randolph-Macon College. But the work he enjoys the most is teaching at New Hanover. Whether in casual discussion during the coffee hour, or a structured Sunday School class, or a Wednesday night special event, this is where he finds authentic people engaged in living out their life with God. Eric lives in Mechanicsville, VA, with his wife (Felecia). He enjoys doing fine cabinetry work and hiking. He has two children, Michael and Daniel, who both live in the DC area. His family is especially fond of playing board games, through which they have whittled away many a winter’s evening.