A Pinch of Salt
Advice from St Thomas, whose feast day is 3 July
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to consider the benefits of healthy scepticism.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
Leader: How do you score on the naivety scale? What do I mean by that? Let me put it another way: do you believe everything you’re told?
- Do you accept as true every rumour that you hear or read in the news?
- Do you revel in the gossip that you encounter on social media?
- Do you always follow the last piece of advice that someone gave you, believing that it must be true?
- Do you take to heart every comment about your appearance, your performance, your achievements, your status?
- Do you believe the claims that advertisers make for their products?
In the calendar of the Christian Church, 3 July is the feast day of St Thomas. You may never have heard of him, but he’s possibly one of the least naive people in the whole Bible.
Reader 1: Thomas was one of the original 12 disciples who followed Jesus in his work around the towns and villages of what is now Israel. His nickname was Didymus, which means ‘the twin’. However, we are told nothing of his brother or sister.
Reader 2: We first learn of Thomas when he adds a reality check to a decision for the disciples to return to Judea, a place where Jesus had previously been violently attacked. He is almost sarcastic when he retorts, ‘Let’s do it then. We’ll go back there and die with Jesus.’ He doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
Reader 1: When Jesus tells his followers that he’s going to leave them, but that he will prepare a place for them in heaven, intending to reassure them, Thomas is the one who wants more clarity. ‘We don’t know where you’re going or how to get there,’ he says. In other words, please be a little more realistic.
Reader 2: Thomas is best known for his scepticism when the other disciples tell him that Jesus has risen from death. ‘If I’m to believe that, I need to see him and I need to touch him,’ is his response.
Leader: In fact, he’s a little more graphic. Thomas says that he needs to put his finger in the holes made by the nails in Jesus’ hands at his crucifixion, and to poke his hand into the wound made by the Roman soldier’s spear in Jesus’ side. When Jesus eventually meets with Thomas, that’s exactly what he invites him to do. Thankfully, Thomas already has all the proof that he needs, simply by Jesus’ very real presence in front of him.
Should we criticize Thomas for his lack of faith, his unwillingness to take things at face value? I’m not sure we should. Certainly Jesus didn’t. Thomas was a valued disciple who went on to found Christian churches, particularly in India. In fact, there is much about Thomas’ approach to life that we can learn from.
Time for reflection
Leader: I think Thomas is the model of healthy scepticism. He trusted Jesus and gave up his former life to follow him. Yet his was not a blind faith. In fact, Jesus comments on this, acknowledging that some people manage to believe without all the questions. Thomas needed to examine the facts, consider the story so far and think through the implications. In these times of fake news and manipulative advertising, there is an argument for us to cultivate Thomas’ skills.
So, what might those skills consist of?
Here are some questions that we should consider asking whenever we hear, see or read news, adverts, gossip or advice in all its forms.
Reader 1: First, who is making the comments? What are their motives? Do they have an axe to grind? Has something happened recently that’s caused them to make the comment?
Reader 2: Second, who are the comments aimed at? In other words, who’s the intended audience? Does it include me or is it none of my business?
Reader 1: Third, do I have all the facts? Is there another side to the story that could alter my way of thinking?
Reader 2: Lastly, what am I expected to do with the comment now that it’s been made? Am I expected to support it, pass it on or disagree with it, or can I simply ignore it?
Leader: Jesus told his disciples to be ‘as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’. Snakes represent a careful, considered approach to life. Snakes don’t blunder into every conflict; they wait and choose their moment to get involved. Doves are a symbol of peace, of avoiding conflict. Perhaps Thomas was a little more abrasive than this, but in many other ways, he illustrates what Jesus was saying. The message is: don’t be naive, think your response through before acting upon it. In the end, peace and harmony are what we are working together for in this community.
Thank you for the intelligence to think things through.
Remind us of this when we hear or see something that causes us to react strongly.