Thomas died somewhere along the southwest coast of India. According to an ancient text called Acts of Thomas, King Misdeus, a local ruler, blew his stack when Thomas converted his Queen, his son, and his sister-in-law to the Way of Jesus.

In response, Misdeus ordered four soldiers to drag Thomas outside the city to a nearby hill. There, they executed the Apostle with spears. This is what Empires—even tiny, local Empires—do to people who threaten the established dominance hierarchy. 

Students of nature use the term “dominance hierarchy” to describe the social structure that emerges among animals like lobsters or wolves or chickens. Maybe you’ve used the phrase “pecking order.” Well, that’s an example of a dominance hierarchy.

CC433246-E95E-4B44-B264-F796CA266743If you throw some feed into a chicken yard, you’ll see the biggest, strongest chicken eat first. An inner circle follows next. Finally, a bedraggled, wary bunch will scurry to and fro to collect whatever remains. 

That last group looks literally henpecked. Since this last group of weaker chickens were young, stronger chickens have mercilessly pecked them whenever they approached food before everyone else was finished. These lowlier chickens avoid this torture only by remaining timid and subservient. Whenever they assert their right to the food, the beaks of the other chickens swiftly deliver pain, humiliation, and even death.

In the dominance hierarchy, the strong get the most food, the most secure places to live, and the most attractive mates. Those at the top of the heap use force against anyone who threatens to unseat them from their privileged position.

The Acts of Thomas does not tell us for sure, but it’s reasonable to suggest that Misdeus executed Thomas because he was a threat to the hierarchy that he ruled. Sure, maybe he was the kind of guy who could get murderous about differences of opinion. But I’m willing to bet that changed behavior among the king’s subjects was the real trigger for Thomas’ death sentence. After all, Thomas had established several congregations.

Jesus had clearly told Thomas, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6) Everywhere Jesus went, God got what God wanted. The sick got healthy. The blind could see. The lame began to walk. The hungry ate their fill. So, when we walk the way of Jesus, God gets what God wants.

You see, God does not want the strong to get all the best stuff while everybody else gets leftovers and castoffs. God does not want a few to accumulate a garish excess while others go wanting. God wants plenty—plenty of resources, plenty of health, plenty of security—for everybody. In other words, God is not a fan of the dominance hierarchy.

The Way of Jesus is a direct threat to any Empire and any empire-like social structure. Jesus knew this. He knew that Caesar and those in league with that system of domination would lash out. And he was willing to be wounded in order to heal the world. In order to remake the world into the world that God had always wanted in the first place.

Following the Way of Jesus is not just a matter of believing a list of concepts and taking up a particular style of worship. Following the Way of Jesus means giving our lives for the sake of making a world that looks like the world that God has in mind. A world where each person can flourish and the dignity of all is recognized. Where every stranger is meant to become friend.

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Jesus was clear about what this would probably mean. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Like Martin Luther King and all the martyrs of the faith, we work for a world that we will probably not see in our lifetime. We give our lives now for the sake of a future promised by God. A promise sealed by the resurrection of Jesus.

And that is why Thomas insisted on seeing and touching the wounds of the risen Jesus. (John 20:19-31) He wanted to see for himself that being wounded in the name of love is the Way to the healing of the world.

When Thomas finally gazed on Jesus’ hands and side, he did not see ruined flesh. He saw the results of God’s transforming love. He saw the beginnings of a new heaven and a new earth. A new creation. As Rumi once said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Love’s wounds are how the divine light gets into the world.

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