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Remember that “Doubting Thomas” wasn’t sceptical because no one had seen or heard anything like this before, but because they had. Dozens of times.

Thomas and all the other disciples lived in a world where the claims about Jesus weren’t that unique.

As historian and journalist Catherine Nixey points out: “In the early years of the first millennium there were many other saviours, many sons of gods who healed the sick and cured the lame. But as Christianity spread, they were pronounced unacceptable – even heretical – and they eventually faded from view.”

One in particular was Apollonius, who lived and died around the same time of Jesus in the Roman province of Cappadocia. He was said to have had a miraculous birth which was heralded by an angelic being. As an adult he gathered disciples and wandered about as an itinerant teacher who also healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead and performed miracles. At the end of his life, Apollonius roused opposition, and his enemies delivered him over to the Roman authorities for judgement. Still, after he left this world, he returned to meet his followers in order to convince them that he was not really dead but lived on in the heavenly realm. Later some of his followers wrote books about him.

As the 2nd Century Greek philosopher Celsus pointed out: “There are many who prophesy at the slightest excuse for some trivial cause both inside and outside temples; It is an ordinary and common custom for each one to say: “I am God or a son of God, or a divine Spirit. And I have come.”

So for Thomas and the rest of them, they knew their story was in direct competition with many other very similar stories already out there. How could they know they had the “right” messiah when it seemed everyone else had their own messiah too? That’s proper doubt. And we all need to have it, if our following of Christ is to be authentic.

Maybe it’s like a vaccine – which of course is very similar to the actual virus but which has a few significant ‘tweaks’ that cause immunity. Maybe Jesus had no intention of starting a new religion based around him, but of freeing us from religious dogma altogether. To set us free.

As we are invited to lean into or “follow” this particular “way” as Jesus calls himself, it all seems familiar enough at first.

But when we call him “light of the world” he says “YOU are the light of the world.” When we try to make him king, he refuses and says “the kingdom is within YOU.” When we tell him he has done great things he says “YOU will do greater things than these.” When we call him “Son of God”, he calls himself “son of MAN” – ie “The Human One”.

The tweak in the story is that this Messiah refuses all our attempts to turn him into ‘God on earth’ and instead points to God in us. And then says if you want to show devotion, “love each other”.

Thomas knew that he was being asked to receive Christ not as just another divine being in competition with all the others, but as a conscious decision to choose love over and above ALL religious dogma.

In other words, this was the moment he could be free from it all, and discover the divine reality he held within himself all along.

And he doubted.

As we all must – if the journey is going to be authentic instead of just another religious observance in competition with all the others.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

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