Thomas: Doubter to Believer

Reading            John 20: 19-31


Peace be with you…

Put your finger here and see my hands.

Reach out your hand and put it in my side.

Do not doubt but believe.



Since the women first announced his Resurrection, the disciples have all been caught up in their own interior explorations of this profound mystery.  The Jesus they have known has been raised from the dead and is appearing to some of them. He is now transformed and experienced as the Risen Christ. They grapple with their questions and doubts, their fears and elations. All these emotions are commingled with the stories shared amongst the community. That first appearance of the Risen Christ to those gathered in the Upper Room on the first Easter night had filled them with an extraordinary “Peace” and his presence had breathed a new life and hope and mission into them. They felt they were shifting from the shock and were really feeling some empowerment to go forth and do as he requested: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  They easily proclaimed to Thomas and the others who were not present that evening, that yes, truly: “We have seen the Lord.”


This week we ponder the interior struggle from doubt to faith within one man, Thomas. When he heard his friends describing what they had seen and heard, he stood firm in his doubts. He refused to believe it. Possibly the news simply sounded too good to be true. Thomas was the plainspoken and gutsy apostle, and he simply wanted to understand what’s going on, and be able to face the situation at hand. When the disciples tell Thomas they have seen Jesus, he answers, "Unless I see the mark of the nails -- in fact, until I touch those marks and put my hand in the wound in his side, I’m not going to believe," responding out of his practical, concrete nature. What if this is some mistake, a delusion born of desperate hope, an apparition? He has to find out. In his Easter evening appearance, Jesus shows his hands and sides to the gathered disciples. Thomas is asking for the same assurance that the others have had. But he goes a step beyond, demanding to touch Jesus’ wounds. He insists upon verifying that this is the crucified Jesus and not an illusion or a ghost.



Thomas wants proof. And he wants Jesus. When Jesus again appears to his disciples in the closed room, Thomas is there. And far from rebuking Thomas, Jesus offers to meet his conditions. "Put your fingers in my hands, touch my side." The Gospel story gives no report of Thomas actually following through with these actions, and I don’t believe he felt any need to do so. But the personal encounter makes Jesus’ resurrection real to Thomas.  In fact, Thomas’ answer, "My Lord and my God!" is the high point of John’s Gospel. When Thomas gets it, he gets it. No one else has offered such devotion or named Jesus as God. Thomas holds out for an experience of Jesus on his own terms until he finds his terms made foolish by the reality of seeing Jesus. Only then does he make his statement of faith! In this story of Thomas’ doubt we have the one place in all the Gospels where the Divinity of Christ is bluntly and unequivocally stated. It is interesting, is it not, that the story that gives Thomas his infamous nickname, the Doubter, is the same story that has Thomas making an earth shattering confession of faith? Look at his confession, “My Lord, and my God.” Not teacher. Not Lord. Not Messiah. But God! It is the only place where Jesus is called God without qualification of any kind. It is uttered with conviction. “You are my Lord and my God!” These are certainly not the words of a doubter.



John’s Gospel wants to show us that doubts, questions and skepticism often lead to deeper faith and larger faith.  But what is significant is that Thomas confesses "My Lord and my God" apparently without plunging his hands into Jesus' side. The one who demands to see and touch and the one who had the opportunity to do both, didn't actually need to touch in order to believe. That is the point John’s Gospel is making. In the face of the revelation of the living Lord all objections - even of the most skeptical person  - are washed away. One can only confess "My Lord and My God." Thomas is no longer "Doubting Thomas" but "Believing Thomas." He fully embraces the living Christ by not indulging the sense of touch. And that is really the message of the author.



Thomas has to make this personal connection with Jesus for himself. Mary can’t experience the resurrected Jesus for the disciples, and the disciples can’t experience Jesus for Thomas. It is faith, not doubt, that holds out for one’s own experience of Jesus. Sometimes the demand to see is not doubt. Sometimes it is even love. We too long for that personal experience of the Risen Christ that sets our beings afire with zeal and gives our faith that confirmation and knowing and peace that 'no one can take from us.'   We, the readers of John's Gospel, don't have the advantage of a resurrection appearance or the chance to plunge our hands into Jesus' side. Yet, that is not an excuse for unbelief. Elsewhere in John's Gospel we read that those who believe in Jesus: "will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father" (14:12). Thus, the benefit of believing is that it will enable even greater works to flow. Who needs, then, a visual appearance of the risen Lord? Who really needs to plunge their hands into the side of Jesus? When we believe  -  which is what Thomas ultimately did  - we not only have all that we need to live,  but we will in some mysterious way,  be able to do greater works than Jesus.  Let us go forth on our Easter journey believing without seeing and without touching. Simply be open to experiencing the virtuous good 'works' that shine forth through us as we go about our daily responsibilities.



Carrying Grace        My Lord and my God!



#3 arletteh 2010-04-11 14:46
cont.---I have always thought of Jesus' wounds being all healed by the time He appeared to the disciples,but i realize now that resurrection is an ongoing process.Perhaps there was just the beginning of a small healing-over of the wounds.It's as if Jesus says:"If you are not afraid of these wounds,touch them." "Jesus, I touch the wounds in your Church.Jesus, since you have so often given me your healed, whole, risen Body,I know Your Life in me is greater than the horror I have at Your wounds.I touch them;I shall be healed,as will ALL of us, with no exception,who turn to you.And we will all bow and exclaim:"My Lord and my God!"
#2 arletteh 2010-04-11 14:37
The torn Body of Christ in the Catholic church has been much with me these holy days.The wounds have festered for so long.they are ugly, horrible and seemingly unhealable.Jesu s, at the last meal he so longed to eat with his beloved disciples,knew the tornness of his body that was to be,yet he said:"This is My Body,given for you.Take, Eat."That same trust Jesus had on our behalf ,was with the Jesus whom the doubter Thomas wishes to touch.Cont.)
#1 Mark Dickinson 2010-04-11 01:57
A beautiful message, Rosemary. Thank you!
At the time the Gospel of John first appeared (scholars generally accept sometime around 100 CE), the new church was struggling, and beginning to doubt, the expected (but delayed?) second coming of Jesus. Thomas, therefore, represented many Christians in the early church ... doubting the return of Jesus, facing persecution and arrest, and, in some cases, suffering torture and eventual death while waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
But we are all waiting .. waiting for deeper revelation, waiting for inner peace, waiting for transformation. And yet faith is all about trust. We trust in God's direction, we wait as we grow in understanding, and we live in anticipation of our own spiritual transformation. Thomas is as much our model as Jesus... he is the place where our humanity meets the presence of our Lord.

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