The Torah portion this week is called “Shelach Lecha” (English: “Send [out], for yourself”). This rather strange name is derived from the words coming from the second verse of Bemidbar (Numbers) 13: “Send men out for yourself, that they may spy out the land of Kenaán (Canaan) … every tribe shall send a man …” We know this portion of Scriptural history quite well – 12 men were chosen and sent out as spies into the promised land with the task of taking a good look at the land, the conditions, the people and the prospects for Israel to go and occupy this land. Two of the twelve spies – Kalev and Yahushua – came back with a positive report, being optimistic and positive about the prospects for Israel to go and live in this land. The remaining ten spies, however, were not positive at all. Their report was filled with doubt, fear and scepticism. And what is more, their scepticism had a very negative impact on the people of Israel who listened to these two completely different reports. As they had done before, the people of Israel started moaning and groaning, wishing that they had rather stayed in Egypt or died in the wilderness.
The second portion of Scripture included in this week’s Torah Reading is Yahushua (Joshua) 2:1-24. In this portion, we have a similar situation than the one in Numbers 13. Yahushua (Joshua) the successor of Mosheh, sends out two spies into the city of Jericho. They stay in the house of Rachav, a prostitute, and when she helps them to escape, they promise that her life and the lives of those in her house would be saved when the people of Israel would take over Jericho. The third reading portion this week is from Mark 10:1-45. In this passage Y’shua tells his disciples that it is harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Elohim than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Directly after Y’shua spoke these words, in Mark 10:26, we read that the disciples were completely amazed and asked one another, “Who, then, can be saved?” We do not read here which one of the disciples asked the question. No specific name is mentioned. We just know that the disciples spoke among themselves. But no doubt, one of them must have initiated this intriguing question “Who then can be saved?”
The more I think about it, the more I suspect that it may have been Thomas who (first) came up with this question. Is he not the one known to be the doubting one, the sceptic among the disciples, who would not hesitate to verbalise his doubts and his questions when it comes to the way of belief? Was he not the one who said to his fellow disciples in John 20:25: “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe”? We know that Y’shua took special notice of Thomas’ utterance of doubt and unbelief and when they met again, Y’shua went straight to Thomas and said to him: “Put your finger here, and look at my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!” The fact that Y’shua said to him “Stop your doubting!” strengthens the suspicion that Thomas may have expressed doubts with regards to belief and salvation, even before this event. Maybe, Mark 10:26 was one of those times when Thomas betrayed his sceptic nature. And maybe that is why (in Mark 10) Y’shua answered the scepticism of Thomas, and the doubts of the rest of his disciples, with these words: “The things that are impossible for human beings, are not impossible for Elohim – all things are possible for Elohim.”
How does all of this link up with the theme of “shelach lecha” or sending out? In the very same chapter in which Thomas expressed his doubts that Y’shua had truly been risen from the dead (John 20), Y’shua said to his disciples: “As the Father had sent me, so I send you.” Earlier in the well-known prayer for his disciples in John 17, Y’shua’s prayer included these words: “I sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world.” We know that this “sending out” of the disciples was something that realized and materialized literally, especially in the book of Acts, where we see the apostles going out, spreading the good news about Y’shua, baptizing new believers and even performing miracles in the Name of Y’shua, the risen One. The one name that is never mentioned in the book of Acts, is the name of Thomas (not taking into account the first chapter, where the names of all the disciples were given, as those being present when they prayed together during those last 10 days before Shavuot).
What happened to Thomas after Y’shua’s ascension to heaven? Was he still the doubting, unbelieving Thomas, or did he hold onto those words, “All things are possible for Elohim” and “As the Father had sent me, so I send you”? Tomorrow, 3 July, is known as the Feast of Saint Thomas in the Roman Catholic Church. We do not keep the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. We do not honour religious feasts that are not commanded in Scriptures. We do not even call this disciple of Y’shua “Saint Thomas”. But there is something behind this Feast of Saint Thomas that is worth going into. From extra Biblical sources it is almost certain that Thomas went to India – more or less the same time when some of the other apostles went to various other parts of the known world of those early years, after the death and resurrection of Y’shua of Nazareth. In India Thomas apparently preached the Good News to all classes of people, including Jewish colonies that were located in certain parts of the land. There is a strong tradition that Thomas’ testimony was responsible for the conversion of about 17 000 people, that his work was often countered with a great deal of resistance and persecution and that eventually he was killed for his convictions (one version of how he died, is that an angry pagan priest drove a spear through his body while he knelt in prayer).
It seems that when Y’shua met up with Thomas after his resurrection and invited him to put his hand in his side, feeling the wound caused by a spear, He was not only trying to help Thomas overcoming his tendency to doubt. This may also have been a prophetic and symbolic act, indicating that eventually Thomas’s life would follow the same pattern as the life of his Master – even to the point where a spear would bring an end to his life. In John 11:16 when the disciples realized that their friend Lazarus was dead, Thomas (almost completely out of nowhere, and perhaps also prophetically) declared: “Let us all go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!” Y’shua was sent out by his Father to fulfil a mission that was not without difficulty, nor without suffering (including the possibility of death). Thomas was sent out by Y’shua to fulfil a mission of similar intensity, also including the possibility of death. After the initial doubt and uncertainty and even scepticism, Thomas came to a point where he realized that nothing is more important than answering the call that Yahweh has put on one’s life. For Thomas it didn’t come easily.
One of the sources that inform us that Thomas went to India, includes the following incident: “The Saviour appeared unto him by night and said to him: Fear not, Thomas, go unto India and preach the word there, for my grace is with you. But he would not obey, saying: Wherever You want to send me, send me, but elsewhere, for unto the Indians I will not go.” The scene continues where Y’shua Himself appears to a merchant from India by the name of Abbanes, saying to him: “Would you like to buy a carpenter? (Thomas was a carpenter, like Y’shua). And he said to him: Yes. And (Y’shua) said to him: I have a slave that is a carpenter and I desire to sell him. And so saying he showed him Thomas afar off, and agreed with him for three litrae of silver unstamped, and wrote a deed of sale, saying: I, Y’shua, the son of Joseph the carpenter, acknowledge that I have sold my slave, Judas by name, unto thee Abbanes, a merchant of Gundaphorus, king of the Indians. And when the deed was finished, Abbanes the merchant went to Thomas, showed him the deed and said to him: Is this thy master? And the apostle said: Yes, he is my Master. And he said: I have bought thee of him. When he realised that Y’shua was behind this, Thomas kept quiet and went to India with Abbanes.”
In the Messianic Scriptures Thomas is often called Didymus, which means “twin”. The question has been asked many times: Why was Thomas called “The twin”? Who was his twin brother or twin sister? There is no certainty as to the answer of this question – simply because we have no real clue coming from Scriptures. Once again, we find a reference to this piece of detail in some of the extra Biblical literature, dating from the late second or early third century. In this literature called “The Book of Thomas the Contender”, we find Y’shua speaking these words to Thomas, his disciple: “Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself.” This is not part of the authentic Scriptures but it reminds us of the fact that as believers in Messiah we are sent into this world, like He was sent into this world, that we will be hated like He was hated, that our message will be rejected by some like his message was rejected, and that our words regarding the salvation of Yahweh will change people’s lives like His words had changed people’s lives. It is no shame to be called a brother or a sister or even a twin of such a Leader and such a Saviour!