Giving Thomas His Due

Today is the day we hear in the Gospel reading about the Apostle Thomas doubting the resurrection until he sees and feels the wounds on the body of Christ. Much like Mary Magdalene, I think Thomas gets short shrift at the bar of history.

It is true that Thomas was not with the other ten disciples when the Lord first appeared to them on Sunday evening. In his homily today, my pastor explained how it should serve as a lesson to us that his not being with the community in their time of trial following Jesus’ execution led to his missing the appearance of Jesus. Fair enough, and point taken, but we actually know nothing of why he was not with the others, and there are some very diverse conclusions that could be drawn.

We do know the others were behind closed doors in fear of the Jews, and that Thomas was not. What we know of his character from his other (limited) appearances in the Gospels is that he was a man of courage and firm resolve, who was deeply devoted to Jesus.

In chapter 11 of John, Jesus tells his disciples that they will be returning to Judea (specifically, to Bethany, where he intended to raise his friend Lazarus from the grave). John records that the disciples objected because of the danger facing Jesus there, but it is Thomas who says: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11.16).

We hear from Thomas again in John 14, where he again displays his singular concern for following Jesus:

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. John 14:2-6 (RSV)

It may very well be that Thomas was the only one of the remaining apostles who was brave enough to be out and about in Jerusalem. He may have been collecting food for the others, he may have been at the Temple in prayer, we just don’t know. But it is clear he had not abandoned the others, for they spoke to him of their experience, and then he was with them when Jesus appeared again a week later.

Doubting Thomas (Guercino)Nonetheless, he comes down to us in popular understanding as Doubting Thomas. It’s hard to imagine what must have gone through his mind when he heard the incredible story his friends told him, but it is no surprise to me that he insisted on having the same proof of the reality of this “vision” that the others had had (c.f. Jn 20.20). But when the Risen Lord confronted him, inviting him to exchange his unbelief for belief, he answered with the most profound statement of faith found in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20.28).

It is in believing that Jesus has risen from the dead that the entire Christian enterprise hinges. As appealing as it is to try to move the Incarnation to the center of the faith, it is in the passion and resurrection that real salvation – victory over death, eternal life – is offered to the human race. It is the resurrection that is the “Good News.” The evangelic task of the Church is not primarily to show the world that Jesus Christ is both God and man, nor even to show the world that God is Triune, but that Jesus rose from the dead.

I suspect the best evidence of that, still, is encountering the marks of the crucifixion on Christ’s Body.