Sunday, November 10, 2013

The doubter: The Apostle Thomas gives his side of the story

"This was all his idea, I swear. You can see how uncomfortable I look, can't you?" - The Apostle Thomas

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He had spoken to her. Later that evening, which was the first day of the week, the disciples were assembled inside with their doors shut for fear of the Jews when Jesus entered, stood in their midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you." After He said that, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Then Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As my Father has sent me, so I send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Ghost. If you forgive people's sins, those sins are forgiven. If you retain their sins, those sins are retained." 
But Thomas, one of the twelve, who was also called Didymus or "twin," was not with them when Jesus arrived. So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Until I see the print of the nails in His hand, put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe." And after another eight days, the disciples were once again indoors, and Thomas was with them. Then Jesus entered, even though the doors were shut, and He stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Reach over here with your finger and examine my hands. Then bring your hand over here and thrust it into my side. Do not persist in your disbelief, but believe!" And Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God." Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, yet still believe." And Jesus truly performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, ones which are not written in this book. But these are written, so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you might have life through His name. (JOHN 20:18-31)

Oh, god. This? Again?

No, no, I don't mind your asking. But it seems like it's the only thing people ever want to talk once they find out who I am. It's like, "Hello! I did other things, too, you know!" But for most people, this one little event defines me -- this one screw up, this one temporary lapse of judgment. But, hey, you know... it is what it is, right? If I could go back and change this, I would, but I can't. I'm pretty much stuck with it now. Hey, at least it gives me a "hook," right? It's something specific people remember about me, if nothing else. I'm the "doubt guy." It's something. Like, name one thing specifically you remember about, say, Thaddeus or Philip.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Okay, the first thing you should know was this was a crazy time. I mean, it was so profoundly messed up, you couldn't even believe it. Like, we'd been following this guy, right? For years. Years! And, sure, it's not like this was the first time we'd ever gotten hassled by the Man. It was par for the course by then. It was just a regular part of what we did. We expected a little static wherever we went. But the crucifixion thing? Yeah, that got to us, like, big time. I can't even lie. It was like...  wow. And then of course the thing with Judas... though, to be honest, that didn't totally catch me off-guard. I mean, you spend a lot of time with a guy, you start to notice if there's something kinda "off" about him. Like, we all agreed with pretty much everything Jesus said, right? But, Judas, man, that guy... he agreed a little too much, you know? Like that one kid who always sits in the front row in class and raises his hand for every question. "Yes, Lord! How true that is, Lord! Can I get you anything, Lord?" That was Judy Iscariot, man, to a frickin' T. It was kinda creepy, to be honest. So the thirty pieces of silver thing -- well, I can't say I saw that coming exactly, but it wasn't like out of the blue either.

But anyway, it was a screwed up time for us. We didn't know what the hell we were supposed to do. It was Simon's idea to hole up for a while. He was like, "Guys, we need to lay low. Pronto." Which of course is just what we did.  His brother, Andrew, found us a place. Not bad as these things go. Not exactly the Ritz, but what do you expect? It was livable. By the way, I want to address that whole "for fear of the Jews" thing. Because it makes us sound prejudiced, which we were anything but. Yes, we were hiding out from some people who happened to be Jews. But we were afraid of specific Jews, you know? Particular Jews. Not, like, the Jewish people in general. It's not like we'd see Uncle Shmuel coming out of the corner deli and go running for cover. But, yes, we were trying to avoid certain individuals of the Jewish persuasion.

So you can imagine how surprised we were when Mary Mags showed up out of, like, nowhere with this crazy story about how she'd just talked to the Lord and everything. But you know how many of us actually believed her? Yeah, try zero. Ze-Ro! I mean, sure, at the time we humored her. "Oh, wow, really? Oh, that is so cool!" and on and on. You know, anything to get her to leave. But I swear, five minutes after she left? We were cracking up. We just totally lost it. We thought it was hilarious! Because Mary Mags was a total space cadet, man. She said that kind of stuff all the time. You never knew how much of it was true, if any of it. I mean, she certainly thought it was true. A camel might think it's a sparrow, too, but that doesn't mean it can freakin' fly. You know what I mean? It became a huge joke with us. Bartholomew, man, he was doing this impression of her, kind of flitting around the room, talking in this high-pitched voice, picking up objects and talking to them as if they were the Lord. Like, he'd pick up a cup and say to it, "Oh, hello, Lord! Nice to see you! Gee but you're looking well!" To be honest, it was kind of a morale booster at the time. Things were... you know, pretty bleak and all, and that was something we could all have a good laugh about. Kind of ease the tension, you know? None of us really knew Mary Mags that well, really. She was one of His friends. We didn't really hang out with her that much. He always had these kind of peripheral nutjobs hanging around Him, but we figured, "Well, He knows what He's doing, I guess." We didn't take her the least bit seriously, is what I'm saying.

Okay, so cut to that evening. I'm out, you know, taking a whiz behind the place we were staying. It's the desert. It's hot. A guy gets thirsty. Whatever. I'm not gonna, you know, pee in the corner or anything. Because we have to live there, like, night and day for who knows how long? I'm not gonna, like, stink up the place by pissing on the floor. It was a courtesy thing. I'm trying to keep the place clean for all of us. And you see what it gets me. I come back into the room, and everybody's just sitting around stupefied. Jaws slack. Eyes wide open. Everybody just kind of staring absently into space. Nobody's talking. I'm like, "Guys? Hello? Did I miss something?" Finally, Simon speaks. He's like, "Did that just happen?" And I'm, like, "Did what just happen? What is all this?" And Simon, he says, "We just saw the Lord." And he's, like, in a trance. They're all in a trance. Me, I'm starting to suspect this is all a put-on, like a continuation of the thing from that afternoon with Mary Mags. I figured, they got together while I was out and decided to pull a little prank on me. Which would not be out of the question.

This isn't too well recorded, but we Apostles occasionally busted each other's chops a little. Just kind of friendly kidding around. We'd hide a guy's sandals or something. Little stuff. Practical jokes. I mean, you spend so much time with a group of guys, you have to do something, right? Because it can get pretty monotonous out there. Only the big events get written down, so you'd think it was all miracles and sermons on the mount and stuff like that. But there's a whole lot of down time in between. Like, a whole lot. It was mostly down time, in fact. So, occasionally, yeah, we'd try and pull a fast one on a guy. Truth be told, I was on the receiving end more often than I would have liked. I remember this one time, Matthew and Thomas came up to me, all serious, with this pitcher of... something. It was yellow and smelled bad, so I had a pretty good idea what it was. But they were like, "Behold! The Lord has miraculously transformed the urine of an ass into the finest wine." And I was like, "Yeah, sure He did. Get the hell out of here with that thing." But they didn't give up. "Do you not have faith in the Lord? Drink! Drink and be satisfied!" I think you know where this story is going: stupid me with a mouthful of donkey piss. I spit it out, like, immediately and say, "You guys are dicks!" And they're just laughing hysterically, like it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen. Which, to them, it probably was. But I was not too amused at the time.

So when they all start in with this "We have seen the Lord!" stuff... well, naturally I'm skeptical. For obvious reasons. Wouldn't you be? But they didn't quit. They even tell me what He said. It was something like, "If you forgive people's sins, they're forgiven. If if you don't, they're not." To which I was like, "Duh." 'Cause that's a totally obvious thing to say. It would be like saying, "If you eat bread, it's eaten, but if you don't eat bread, it's not eaten." I mean, I don't need the Son of God to tell me that. I know that. Anyway, they kept it up for eight days, just insisting over and over that the Lord had appeared in their midst and had spoken to them, just like He'd spoken to Mary Mags. I was like, "Enough already, guys! The joke's over!" That's why I said all that stuff about putting my finger in his nail prints and my hand in his side and all that. It was just talk. That's all. But obviously, it must have gotten back to Jesus because He knew all about it when He showed up the second time. We were just hanging around that night, not doing much. I think some of the guys were playing canasta. The doors? Totally locked. And guess who walks in? That's right. The J-Dog. Himself. In the flesh. Just totally cool. Strides in all casual, like it ain't no thang. As if we didn't just see Him nailed to a freakin' cross a week and a half ago. I guess by that point, he could, like, walk through walls and shit. I don't know.

Now here is where the story gets complicated, not that you'd ever guess it from the way John wrote it down. How that guy ever got to be the designated recording secretary is beyond me. Look, I love John, but a stenographer he ain't. Like, Jesus would be out preaching sermons and performing miracles and shit, and occasionally He'd look over His shoulder at John and say, "John, you gettin' all this down, buddy?" And John would be, like, "Sure thing, Jesus. Totally." Which was a lie, 'cause later that night we'd see him struggling to remember what had actually happened that day. Half the time, he'd just make it up. So it kind of galls me when people say that John's book is the "most beautiful" or the "most perfect" of the gospels or whatever. The dude was totally pulling this stuff out of his ass. And now he gets to be John the Evangelist, and I'm Doubting Thomas. They hold up quotes from his book at baseball games and everything, and I'm chopped liver. That's life in a nutshell, right? Typical. So that night was one of many, many times when the so-called Gospel of John was not exactly the gospel truth, if you catch my drift. I mean, he got some of it... but not all of it. You can see that in Chapter 20. Like he calls me "one of the twelve." Which isn't true because we were down to eleven at that point after the whole Judas thing went down. By the way, you know what John, Mr. Perfect Evangelist, had to say about that incident in his "beautiful" book? Two things: jack and squat. Completely slipped his mind when he was writing down the story. Don't you think that's the kind of thing that might merit a verse or two? So like I say, details were not John's forte. Still love the guy, though.

Getting back to that night. First off, I was stunned shitless when Jesus walks into the room. Just immediately, totally bowled over, blown away. Completely sold. He didn't have to say a goddamned word. I was 100% on board the second He magically walked through a locked door. I want to say that for the record. Might I point out, my fellow Apostles had all gotten this very same demonstration eight days previously. John even says -- he just flat-out says in his book -- that Jesus showed them His nail marks and the wound in His side. They'd seen it all: the door thing, the nail thing, the works. So obviously Jesus thought it was important to put on a dog and pony show for their benefit. And yet, when I ask for the same thing they got, all of a sudden I'm the bad guy. Total bullshit. And besides, that night, I didn't even ask for it. Like I said, I was totally convinced He was legit from the first second He walked in the room. So I didn't say a word! At least not at first. I mean, what could I say at that point? He did the talking. He was like, "Thomas, I hear you didn't believe in me when I showed up the first time." And obviously, I'm feeling like a Grade-A horse's ass at this point so I'm not saying anything. So then He says, "Okay, smart guy. You need proof? C'mere. Put your finger in my nail prints and your hand in my wound." So now I had to say something, so I said, "No, really, Jesus. That's okay. I totally believe you now." But he was insistent. He was like, "No no no. Obviously, you need proof. Well, here it is, baby. Come and get it." And now all the other Apostles are looking at me, like, "What is this guy gonna do?" And you've gotta know that that the last thing -- I mean the very last thing -- I wanted to do was put my hand into His or anybody's side wound. But I didn't want to, you know, puss out in front of the other guys. So very slowly, I start to walk toward Him, and He's like, "That's right, Mr. Smart Guy, Mr. Doubting Thomas. Come get the definitive proof you so obviously needed." Like all sarcastic. And that's where the whole "Doubting Thomas" thing started, because after He left that night, the guys just started calling me that and it stuck. Before that, it was just "Tom" or "Tommy" or sometimes "Tommy Boy." No one ever called me "Didymus" or "twin" or any of that. I tried to get that started, but it never really took. I thought it was kind of cool to have two different names, like "Simon who is called Peter." If he gets two names, why can't I? So one day, I asked the other Apostles if they could start calling me "Didymus," which I liked the sound of. This was way before P. Diddy, too, so I wasn't ripping it off from him at all. This was totally original. And Philip, I think, said something like, "Didymus? What the hell is that?" And I was like, "It means twin." And they just laughed, so I never brought it up again. I was so embarrassed. And then that prick, John, has to rub it in by including that detail in his little story about me. He knew the other Apostles would see it, and of course, they'd all be in on the joke. See, that's my point here. We busted each other's balls. It was just how we did things.

So, anyway, there I was. Totally in a daze. Not knowing what the hell to do. It was like this crazy dream. All the other Apostles had kind of backed off, and it was just me and Him, Jesus, facing each other. And He's pointing to His side, you know, the side with the wound in it. And I'm so nervous, you've gotta understand. I'm, like, taking baby steps toward Him. And He's like, "That's it. Come a little closer, Doubt Boy. Put your hand in my side. See whether or not I'm full of shit." And the other Apostles, they're just looking at me. Obviously, when John wrote all this down later, he gussied it up and made it sound all pretty. But it wasn't like that at the time. Now, I guess in retrospect, there were a couple of things I could have done here. I mean, I could have bowed down to Him right then and started calling Him "My Lord and my God," all that stuff. I don't know if He would have gone for it, though, 'cause He seemed pretty insistent on the whole hand-in-the-side thing. 'Cause that's what He'd shown up specifically to do. I don't know what else He had going on that night or how He spent those eight days off in between visits. I guess He was off somewhere doing God stuff or whatever. But now, He was here, telling me to put my hand in His side. And you know what? In some weird way, I was curious. I mean, wouldn't you be? I was thinking, "Maybe I should do this. I mean, when am I going to get another opportunity?" But of course, I was scared, too. I mean, of course, there's the whole squeamishness thing going on, too, 'cause -- Jesus or not -- it's still putting your hands into some dude's abdomen.

By this point, Jesus was baiting me a little. Kind of taunting. Quite a lot, actually. He was like, "C'mon, Tommy Boy. What's the matter? Afraid to be proven wrong? Just put your hand into my side and this whole thing will be over. We can go out for chicken wings later." Which was a joke, because He never picked up the tab for a meal. Not once. Okay, sure, we all got to "eat His flesh" and "drink His blood" at the Last Supper... which, like, first of all, gross. And, like, second of all, it was one meal! One! There were a whole lot of suppers that weren't the last, believe me, and they weren't catered affairs either, I can tell you. And there were breakfasts and lunches, too. You think He ever made any of those magic fishes and loaves for us, his buddies who have been following him around for, like, years? Fat chance, if you'll pardon the expression. We were lucky to get a scrap of stale unleavened bread. Maybe some hummus. So the "chicken wing" comment, which for some reason didn't make it into the Bible, was just to get under my skin. And it was working, too, because I actually was getting closer and closer to his side. And Jesus was like, "Do it! Do it! Do it!" Kind of chanting rhythmically. He started gesturing to the Apostles, and then they were all chanting. "Do it! Do it! Do it!" Well, what could I do? I very, very tentatively reached out and put the tips of my fingers into the wound, just enough to touch it for a second. And it was very real and kind of wet and clammy, so I drew my hand back, like, instantly. And the Apostles, man, they just lost it. Whooping and cheering. "Aw, sick! No way! I can't believe he did it!" All that stuff.

So then, yeah, I knelt down in front of Him and kind of looked down at the floor and said, "My Lord and my God." 'Cause I knew that was what He wanted to hear. He loved that kind of shit. He and His dad both. Always fishing for compliments, those two. And at first, He didn't say anything back to me for a few seconds. So I look up at Him, and He's looking down at me with this weird, inscrutable look on his face. And then He says in a very loud and clear voice, for everyone to hear, that I only believed in Him because I had seen Him and that "blessed were they who had not seen and yet still believed." And the other Apostles just kind of went quiet and nodded at this statement, like acknowledging the deep spiritual truth of it. And I immediately got to my feet and started defending myself. I said, "What are you saying, Jesus? Are you saying I'm not blessed? For that one mistake? Like, boom, all of a sudden no more blessings for Thomas?" And then I gestured over to the other Apostles and said, "What about these guys? Are they blessed? I mean, they all saw you, too. They just didn't have the bad luck of being out taking a whiz during your first visit! Why are those guys blessed and I'm not?" And Jesus, He didn't say anything. He just kept that strange, mysterious expression on His face and kind of casually walked backwards toward the door. And then He just... disappeared. Like a rabbit in a magic show. Poof! I started calling after Him. "Don't do this to me, Jesus! Don't pull that passive-aggressive bullshit like you always do! Like, you say something to a guy, then conveniently disappear before he has the chance to respond. This is so typical of you! Always have to have the last word!" But he was gonzo. Outta there. I was talking to thin air, like a moron.

By the way, here's another place where John is full of shit. He's all like, "Jesus performed a bunch of other signs which aren't recorded in this book." Yeah, they're not recorded in this book because they didn't fucking happen, John! That might be why those particular "signs" didn't make the final cut. And what is the point of that passage anyway? I mean, the moral of the story supposedly is that you should believe even if you don't have any tangible proof. So why say that Jesus gave us a bunch of proof? Doesn't that kind of negate the whole story?  I mean, come on! You know what I think? I think Jesus had this whole thing planned in advance. He thought up that "blessed are they who have not seen" line, and He was just waiting for the opportunity to use it on somebody. Guess I drew the short straw on that one. Like, in a weird way, I'm grateful to Jesus because this story at least makes me stand out from the other guys. But on the other hand, I'd prefer that people remember for, you know, basically anything other than this. But then again, we don't choose our fate. Fate chooses us, and don't you forget it.

Anyway, we, the Apostles and I, tried to stay together after Jesus was crucified. But it was tough, you know, 'cause he was the leader and everything. He was the idea man, the visionary, the guy with the grand plan. It's like, who wants to see the Doors without Morrison, man? Somebody, not me, suggested we change our name from the Apostles to the Disciples out of respect, like when the Grateful Dead became just the Dead after Jerry died. And we soldiered on for a while like that, but it wasn't the same. The magic was gone. So we kind of went our separate ways. It wasn't like there was ever a big breakup scene. It just kind of faded away after a while. 

So now I'm doing the whole "solo" thing here in India. Trying to spread the word about Christianity. I'm still not used to that word. I mean, I get putting His name in the name of the religion as, like, a branding thing. But I dunno, man. It just doesn't have a ring to it. Back in the day, we didn't have a formal name for what we did. We just called it "the Way," which I thought was very cool. It's like that song, you know? "I want yooooooou... to show me the way." I think it's by Cheap Trick or REO Speedwagon or something. Maybe not those guys but somebody like that. Do you know that one? Didn't make it down here, huh? Well, it's pretty sweet. You'd like it. This whole Indian tour's been pretty much of a bummer so far, though. What I'm selling, these folks ain't buyin'. But you'd better believe I'm gonna keep at it, brother. It was a bitch getting here, for one thing.  It's not like I can take the first red eye flight to Calcutta, now, is it? No, sir. I had to schlep down here on my own two swollen feet. So I'm not about to turn tail and head for home. At least not anytime soon. Actually, I think I might be starting to change a few minds. It'll take a while, but I'm sure I'll eventually get through to these heathens.  I hope you don't take offense at that word. It's just industry jargon.

Say, would you look at that guy! No, the other one. The one holding the sharp, pointy stick. Yeah, him. Looks pretty pissed off about something. Wonder what he could want.

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