Tradition tells us that following the Ascension of Jesus, the twelve apostles drew straws to determine where they would go to proclaim the Gospel. The Apostle Thomas, who we celebrate today, drew India.
Scott Wesley Brown wrote the lyrics to a rather humorous song. He says things like, “I’ll see that the money is gathered / I’ll see that the money is sent / I’ll volunteer for the nursery / I’ll usher, I’ll deacon , I’ll go door to door / Just let me keep warming this seat,” and the chorus kicks in, “Please don’t send me to Africa.”
Well if you replace Africa with India, you’ll get Thomas’ response to his assignment. “O Lord, send me wherever you wish, but not to India, not to India!” The legend goes on to tell us, that night Thomas had a dream where he saw an Indian walking along who was looking to hire a skilled laborer. The Indian was stopped by Jesus who asked, “Do you seek a highly skilled laborer? I have one here whom I will sell to you. His name is Thomas.” Saying that, with the wounds in his hands, Jesus pointed at Thomas. Thomas responded, “As you wish, Lord, so be it!” He left that very day. He was very successful in India and is reported to have even baptized the three Magi that came to visit Jesus in Bethlehem.
A later legend tells of the time he was ordered by an Indian king to worship before an idol. Thomas responded, “I will kneel before the idol of your god, and if the idol is not destroyed when I kneel, I will make sacrifice to him.” He then prayed in Hebrew and the stone statue melted like wax.
I don’t know how credible that second legend is, but the first seems to contain elements of the truth. To this day, Syrian-Christians in India refer to themselves as the Mar-Thoma Church or “Father Thomas” Church, and they are in communion with The Episcopal Church.
Thomas is the patron Saint of architects (often seen in icons holding a T-square) because he is reported to have built a palace for an Indian noble as a way of converting him and the patron Saint of the blind, because of what some consider to be his spiritual blindness related to that doubting incident.
In considering Thomas’ response to be called to India, I wonder how many of us have cried out in a similar fashion, “O Lord, don’t send me to India,” or something equivalent. “O Lord, don’t ask me to forgive ___.” “O Lord, don’t ask me to serve.” “O Lord, I’ll love anyone, but don’t ask me to love my enemy.” You can fill in however you see fit. Yet, like with Thomas, with his nail pierced hand, the Lord points at each of us and says, “Go… forgive… serve… love.”
These are the things that Jesus did and they are the works he calls us to. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Instead of saying, “O Lord, don’t….”, perhaps we need to recall that famous hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal. She writes:
Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days…
let them flow in endless praise.
In the following verses:
Take my hands …
Take my voice…
Take my silver and my gold…
Take my will…
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.