On being grateful to Thomas

3 July, 2013. St. Thomas, Apostle

Eph 2:19-21. Built into a holy dwelling-place for God

John 20:24-29. Jesus revives the faith of Thomas the doubter

First Reading: Ephesians 2:19-21.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Gospel: John 20:24-29.

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

A Skeptic for our Times

Some wonder what was wrong with Thomas the twin? Why was he so doubting?  On Easter Day, Jesus convincing appears to his disciples, suddenly standing there among them even though the doors were shut. To dispel their doubt that he was a ghost, or that he wasn’t the one who had been crucified, he shows them his hands and his side. In various ways they can recognise the Jesus they knew and loved, and he spoke with the same authority as before. There was continuity as well as something new and mysterious. He wished them peace, breathed new life into them, gave them a mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22).What happened in that upper room was experienced by many. Now if you knew a group of people for years, and they told you what happened the day before, would you not believe them? Or would you refuse outright to believe them, as Thomas did? He was a born pessimist, unwilling or unable to believe in good news.

Thomas’s contrarian temperament is hinted at earlier in John’s Gospel. When Our Lord, against the disciples’wishes, decided to go up to Jerusalem, it was Thomas who took a gloomy view of the idea: “Yes, let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16). Characteristically, he expected the worst. On another occasion when Jesus assured them that by dying he’d be returning to the Father, Thomas raised the objection: “We do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:4, 5). So when the others were telling him of the Resurrection, it’s not surprising that Thomas ran true to form: “Unless I can see the holes that the nails made in his hands. . . and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe” (Jn 20:25).

Many believers are grateful to Thomas for arguing the way he did, for expressing skepticism, a doubter by temperament like so many of us — and then being a position to reinforce our faith, enabling us vicariously to put our fingers into the holes and our hand into the Lord’s side. He needed the visual and the tactile; he wanted solid proof, and there’s a side of us that needs it too.

We may wonder how church authority in  recent times might have treated one like Doubting Thomas. Would he have been sidelined from his position as an apostle, in a process marked by secrecy and threat of total exclusion? What statements might he be required to sign, as proof of total submission? In responding so kindly to Thomas’s initial skepticism, the Lord was considerate of us all. No Gospel Resurrection scene is as tangible as the one between Thomas and Jesus. For all his doubting, Thomas did us a great favour. And he came up with the loveliest prayer of all – more than an act of faith, an act of commitment and surrender: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

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