by Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz
Thomas must have had quite a reputation among the very earliest followers of Jesus!
One of a number of disciples who are identified by name in John’s Gospel, he is the only one with a nickname. Three times he is called “the Twin” – “Didymus” in the original Greek. Whose twin he was and whether he was an identical or a fraternal twin – these are questions John’s Gospel doesn’t answer. It’s because of what he says in this Sunday’s Gospel that he has acquired another nickname that he probably wouldn’t have been too thrilled about – and that is “Doubting Thomas.”
Doubt? Count Me In!
Told by his fellow disciples, “We have seen the Lord,” he counters, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” If that amounts to doubt, please count me in! Let’s be honest about this: When was the last time you saw with your own eyes someone who had been raised from the dead? It’s not an everyday occurrence by any means! When it comes to the spectacular stuff, my skeptical side is right there with Thomas. Trust, but verify, as the old proverb goes!
When we first meet Thomas in John’s Gospel, there’s not the least bit of doubt in the Twin. When Jesus made it clear that He was going to Bethany to attend to Lazarus (the Gospel passage we heard on the Fifth Sunday of Lent), he did so over the vocal objections of the disciples, who reminded Jesus that mortal danger awaited Him in Judea. Unmoved by their protests, Jesus insisted, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” It’s Thomas who speaks up, encouraging his comrades, “Let us also go to die with him.” I don’t detect even the slightest shred of doubt here. What I find instead is a loyal disciple, firm and unshakeable in his resolve to follow Jesus wherever He leads and come whatever may.
Seeing Was Believing
When they reached Bethany, Thomas saw what Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus. Seeing was believing, and there was no mistaking the power of this sign: Not even death could stand in the way of the One who showed Himself to be the resurrection and the life. But the cross was just as real, and Thomas saw that too. The eyes of faith filled with tears as the cruel nails pierced the hands and feet of the Master and a soldier’s sharp lance piercing His side. Plain as anyone could see, it was finished.
After Golgotha, was it any wonder that Thomas took the words of his fellow followers as wishful thinking – the lingering phantasm of a hope that had breathed its last and nothing more? But hope did not disappoint. After a week that must have seemed a hollow eternity to the Twin, the Crucified One returned to the room. When He addressed Himself directly to Thomas, inviting him once again to see and believe, the Twin uttered the Gospel’s clearest and most definitive profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” That would have brought this week’s Gospel to a very happy ending, but Thomas didn’t get the last word. That belonged to Jesus, and it’s really where matters became – and remain – much more complicated: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
These words resonate across the centuries for us as a commandment that’s disguised as a blessing. Plainly put, Jesus is making it clear that the persuasive power of the Gospel in the world today rests on the shoulders of those who now dare to call ourselves Christians. It’s up to us to give witness to the crucified-and-risen Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles shows us how seriously the earliest followers of Jesus took this responsibility: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers … All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.”
Nothing flashy about any of that! Simple, sincere faith was at work in the Spirit-filled followers of Jesus – confident and no longer afraid. The results? “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles,” and “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
If seeing is believing, then it is now up to us – first to see the suffering Christ in the very least of our brothers and sisters, binding their wounds and attending to their needs. When we do the work of Christ, putting our convictions into action, others will see the risen Christ at work in us and so come to believe that He is the Savior of the world.
St. Thomas the Twin, pray for us![hr]
Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday
Acts 2: 42-47
Psalm 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24
I Peter 1: 3-9
John 20: 19-31[hr]
Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University.