I’m not usually the most detail oriented person you might know. I’m just fine letting others fill in details for themselves to their own satisfaction. But then there are times when I’m reading through the weekend lectionary, and a detail stands out in a new way and changes or deepens the way I understand what is going on. Yup, even after preaching the lectionary now ten times through. There’s a detail here in the beginning of John’s passion story. (By the way, when does the passion story begin? John’s Gospel would have us begin “In the beginning” before anything else existed!) I’m just going to start in Bethany, at the point where the religious authorities start building their case in earnest against Jesus. Jesus and the disciples are safely across the Jordan and out of the stones’ throw in Jerusalem, where they took up stones against him on the Festival of the Dedication. (By the way, which Festival is that? Today’s Jews call it Hannukah. It’s the celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple to holy purposes after the Maccabeans evicted the pigs and the Madman Epimanes –oops–Antiochus Epiphanes, who thought he was God’s gift to the human race, at least the part of the human race left after he slaughtered thousands.) So Jesus is more than a stone’s throw from Jerusalem when he gets word that his beloved friend Lazarus has taken ill and it is feared he may die. After dilly dallying for two torturous days, he announces that it is time for him to go to Bethany and wake up his friend. His disciples were thinking Jesus may have been the one needing a wake-up call, because they remind him that they were just about to stone him to death in Judea, and the last time they checked their maps Bethany was still in Judea. That’s when Thomas called the Twin delivers a line that all but escapes preachers when we preach all 57 verses of the Resurrection of Lazarus story while people shift in their seats and bounce their legs over their knees. It’s a detail, really. It doesn’t seem to change any of the course of events about to unfold. Well, not really.
Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is Dead.” For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him. Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
I hear the voice of Eeyore speaking here. “Might as well go with him. Where else is there to go? I guess if he has his heart set on getting himself killed in Judea, we might as well get ourselves killed too.”
Now some people might hear the voice of a Kirk Douglas Spartacus, with a heroic “If he’s going to get himself killed in Judea, we’ll ALL get ourselves killed in Judea men!”
I don’t know a lot of people who can speak that line with that kind of conviction and enthusiasm that makes others just as cheerful as you are to go get yourself killed. In fact, I’m pretty darn cautious about following that kind of leadership. Which leads me to hear Eeyore, ever faithful, ever truthful, stubborn in all the right things that matter in a friendship. I think I’d rather have Eeyore at my back than Kirk Douglas Spartacus, because I know it will only be a matter of time before the slings and arrows start to fly. At least with Eeyore, I’ll get fair warning. It just hurts when he says he told me so.
But here comes the detail I promised. Thomas is always called “the Twin.” Whose twin was he? Makes me wonder. Was his twin a sister, so she doesn’t rise to a level of enough importance to be named? All the other brothers get named pretty clearly. The sons of Zebedee, James the brother of Jesus. So what gives that Thomas has one of the most mystical and rare relationships known in the ancient world, but we never know who the twin is? Told you it was a niggily detail.
My mother’s sisters, Leona and Viona, were twins. Jim’s dad and brother , John and Robert, are identical twins. My biology lab partners in high school were identical twins. I’ve been around a few twins. Twins will always make sure you know which of them is the oldest. I’ve known identical twins who continued to stay together as long as they live, sometimes never marrying. John and Robert married sisters, but when “The Girls” died they soon moved in together. I’ve also known some fraternal twins who work overtime to be separate, distinguished, untied to their wombmate. What kind of twin would Thomas be who would follow Jesus and always be identified in terms of his wombmate–but never be seen with him or her, never mentioned together? Shoot, from the twins I’ve known the twin would pretty much have to be dead. Even bereaved of the wombmate, a twin doesn’t say “I used to be a twin.”
So what gives with Thomas the Twin?
You might know Thomas by his other appellation. Doubting Thomas. In fact, we forget that he is a twin at all. I told you it was just a naggy little detail. Thomas refused to take the others’ word for it that Jesus had in fact, been raised from the dead and had appeared to them out of nowhere in a locked room. He declares he will not believe until he puts his fingers in the marks of the nails on Jesus’ hands and his hand in Jesus’ side. Again, I think Eeyore. Not unfaithful. Just the opposite. So faithful that he won’t let anyone blow any cheerful happy smoke up…his, well, you know. It’s well and good for others to take delivery on sensationalist and cheap good news, but not Eeyore. Remember, Thomas was the one who said they might as well go along with Jesus and be killed with him? Such a friend might sigh in relief for not getting hung up there alongside Jesus, but let’s not forget that he saw the distinct possibility and didn’t flinch. Doubting? I don’t know about that.
So I ask again, what gives with the Twin? It was important enough that the Gospel of John tells us more than once. But not important enough to give a name to the Twin?
Maybe this detail isn’t as small as it seems. In fact, I believe that it is quite large.
You and I are Thomas’ twin sibling. That’s why there is no name there. It’s left blank so that you can write your own in. The writer is looking over a shoulder at us, gives us a wink and lays a finger aside the nose. You and I are invited into the story here, to follow Jesus even if it means that we might get killed with him. We are invited to place our hands there and there, and we are given Jesus’ blessing as ones who have not seen what Thomas has seen, but just like Thomas must overcome doubts and questions in order to believe. Through Thomas, we get in on the blessing. Through Thomas, we get a ticket for the road trip to Jerusalem. And if we die with Jesus, then? Well, then. Don’t leave the story yet.