Deacon Cornell's Homilies


Acts 4:32-35
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31


April 29-30, 2000, Second Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

Poor Thomas - he takes the rap for our unbelief. This is another one of those Gospel stories that is so familiar we don't bother listening to it anymore. I invite you to look at this story from a slightly different perspective today. First of all, I think the meager evidence the Gospel gives us about who Thomas is paints a very different story from how we normally think about him. In the only other reference to Thomas, in the story of the raising of Lazarus, when Jesus tells the disciples he is going back to Bethany, they all try to change his mind since he would be going back to where the people tried to stone him. Only Thomas steps up and says, "then let us go with him, to die with him."

And here in this story, the rest of the disciples are shut up in a room, afraid to show their faces for fear of the authorities arresting them. Only Thomas has the guts to go out and about. Then he goes back to the room and the disciples, still hiding behind locked doors and windows, tell him they have seen the risen Christ. But Thomas is not convinced. He states what he needs in order for him to believe. When Jesus re-appears and gives him what he has asked for, he believes wholeheartedly, kneeling and calling Jesus God - the only person in the Gospels to do so explicitly.

Who is it in this story that doesn't believe? I think we often jump to the conclusion that Thomas is singled out as the unbeliever compared to the disciples who had seen Jesus. I don't think the story supports that at all.

To answer the question, who is it in this story that doesn't believe, we need to understand what is meant by belief in this context. The Greek word translated as belief means more than our common meaning of intellectual assent. It contains strong overtones of obedience and trust, implying an assent of head and heart that leads to a change in behavior. Using that definition of believing, what evidence does this story give us that the disciples who saw Jesus really believed? Nothing changed in their behavior. They were still cowering and confused. It would be another fifty days before they got what they needed to really believe, when the Spirit would come and fill their hearts and minds and bodies with the courage to proclaim the good news.

Who are we in this story? Unfortunately, I think we most often align ourselves with the disciples gathered in the room rather than Thomas. Yes we may have belief in the narrow sense of intellectual assent but we haven't yet gotten what we need to become true believers, moved by this story of Jesus who lived, died, and was raised to go and tell it to others.

If only I could be like Thomas and know what I needed to believe like that, to have the  courage to say to God, "I will only believe if this or that." And mean it, so that when God gives me what I ask for as proof, like Thomas, I will believe with my whole being; I will be transformed by the experience so that I must tell the story.

In our cultural tendency to expect winner to take all, we hear Jesus say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed", and we extrapolate that he must mean that those who need to see to believe are less blessed. But he says nothing of the kind. Moreover, he explicitly comes to give Thomas the proof he needs to believe. I think Jesus know perfectly well from his human experience that most humans need to see in order to believe wholeheartedly. That is the whole reason for the Incarnation, and the whole reason for the Church and the sacraments.

As Fr. Butler emphasized in his Triduum homilies, Jesus' plan is for the kingdom of God to spread by the telling of the story. Not so much by words as by how we live out this belief that we say we have. Not so much as individuals but as community, little communities like our families, larger ones like our parish, huge ones like the universal Church. Here is where we are, as my daughter would say, so the disciples in the room. Where are all the crowds that were here last week? So often when I hear people talk about getting people back to church, there are overtones that they are the ones who are somehow not getting it right.

 Is it possible they, like Thomas, came to a room and heard people saying that they had seen the risen Lord, but they saw no evidence of that in the way we live? Can we honestly say that we live like a people who have experienced the risen Christ? That we love one another (you shall know we are Christians by our love), and as we heard in the first reading from Acts, there is no needy person among us, that we are all of one mind and heart? If we don't believe like that, how can anyone see the risen Christ in us so that they can believe?

I hope all of us renew our appreciation of this familiar story and perhaps strive to be like Thomas: honest enough to admit we need proof to believe wholeheartedly, perceptive enough to figure out what that is, and then bold enough to ask God for it. I think this story gives us the hope that God will give us what we need, so that we too might have life through this belief in Jesus, the risen Lord. And so we can become the proof that others need so they might live as well.

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