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Believing Thomas

Nagging Doubter or Model Disciple?


The Incredulity of St. Thomas, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio; 1601-1602; oil on canvas

The Incredulity of St. Thomas, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio; 1601-1602; oil on canvas

April 11:
Second Sunday of Easter
John 20: 19-31

Suppose, up in heaven, the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples have a reunion. Matthias — Judas’ replacement — wants to catch up with the others. So he asks them, “Where were you when Jesus died?” Talk about an embarrassed silence. Who might speak first?

The women who followed Jesus stayed by him until the end. Where did the men go?

Matthias could be kinder. Ask, “Where were you when you first met him alive again?” We can hear the sigh of relief. They were still together. Most of them. What a night that was! Then they catch their breath. The truth? They were hiding. He had to pass through a locked door. Cut through their fear.

Where was Thomas that night? Day and night, while the others cowered behind locked doors, I imagine Thomas was out in the streets of Jerusalem. Looking for him.

It’s his way. He sizes up a situation. Then says, “Okay. Let’s do it.” When he isn’t sure about things, he asks for more details. When Lazarus is sick, Jesus waffles about going to see him, then heads for Bethany after his friend has died. They all know how dangerous it will be for Jesus. What does Thomas say? “Well then. Let’s go there and die with him!” (John 11:16) I see Jesus and Thomas head up the road. Then stop to let the others catch up.

When Jesus says his long goodbye, he says he must go. He says, “You know the way …” Thomas wants to hear and understand everything Jesus says. “Excuse me, Lord. We don’t know the way. How can we? We’re not like you.” (14:5) Jesus says, “I am the way … the truth and the life …” That’s enough for Thomas.

Thomas says, “Mary says he’s up and about. Peter and John saw an empty tomb. Maybe the two stories don’t add up to much. But if Jesus is who I know him to be … He’s out there somewhere.”

If you came home after a day walking the streets and found your friends clean and rested, celebrating something you had missed, wouldn’t you be a little cranky? “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.” (20:25)

A week later, Jesus comes back. This time it’s for Thomas. “Do not doubt but believe.” If this is a rebuke, why does Jesus offer Thomas the proof he asks for? Why not just command him to believe? If Thomas’ doubts condemn him, why does John tell us Thomas made the most profound confession of faith? “My Lord and my God!” Jesus’ invitation to Thomas is an act of love.

Then he says one of those gospel words spoken over the heads of the disciples. Jesus sees other people behind, above, beyond Thomas. He’s talking to us. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

We need to be more like Thomas and less like his friends. We have to take Jesus at his word. We can’t hide behind doors locked by our fears. Within walls of comfort, familiarity, tradition. We have to put discipleship to all the tests of life in this world. Seek understanding. Never quit the quest for God’s truth.

Sitting behind closed doors, waiting for truth to dawn, is a luxury granted just once. To 10 men, for one day, almost 2,000 years ago.

Truth finally burst through their defences and gave them a gift. The Spirit of God. Authorized them to do something. Forgive sins. So they could go out into the world. Be his presence and power in the world.

The world where Thomas spent that first Easter Day. And found to be a desolate place without Jesus.

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