|Date:||April 19, 2020 Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, Cycle A|
So after hearing this well known story, who said to themselves: I really need to be more like Thomas!
Like Mary Magdalene who we heard about last week, Thomas called Didymus (twin) has been negatively characterized over the centuries without any scriptural basis. What do the scriptures actually say about Thomas? There are only three stories that give us insight into who Thomas is. The first is 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."
The second is in John's version of the Last Supper where in response to Jesus telling the disciples that he is going to his Father and that "where I am going you know the way." Thomas says to him, "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Thomas is the only one with the courage to ask the question that all the disciples have in their hearts but are afraid to ask.
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.
I think we often jump to the conclusion that Thomas is singled out as the unbeliever, compared unfavorably to the disciples who had seen Jesus. I don't think the story supports that at all. In the first place, the other disciples were not among "those who have not seen and have believed" were they. They had seen the risen Lord. And if the truth be told, they were not acting in a way that showed they believed. They were still cowering and confused. It would be another month or so 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. I think it is safe to say that Thomas could not believe the other disciples because they were not acting as those who had seen Jesus raised from the dead. They were still afraid, still locked up in the room.
And when we hear Jesus say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed", do we think he means that those who need to see to believe are less blessed. Jesus says nothing of the kind. He explicitly comes to give Thomas the proof he needs to believe. I think Jesus knows perfectly well from his human experience that most humans need to see in order to believe wholeheartedly. And since humans are that way because God made us that way, I don't think there is anything wrong with it. That is the whole reason for the Incarnation, and the whole reason for the Church and the sacraments: God wants us to believe because we have a humanly visible experience of God. To tell the truth, I don't know anyone who lives a life that shows they believe in Christ who hasn't had a humanly sensible experience of Christ. I don't think that is humanly possible.
So I think today's scripture says two very important things about Thomas for us. First is that we would do well to strive to be like Thomas: honest enough to admit we need proof to believe wholeheartedly, perceptive enough to figure out what that proof is, and then bold enough to ask God for it. I think this story gives us hope and confidence that God will give us what we truly need.
Secondly it reminds us that others need to see Christ in order to believe. We are called as a community to be the body of Christ whom others can see in order to believe. That is the reason our parishes exist: to be the Body of the Risen Christ here in Acton, Boxborough. and Stow in 2020.
So let us pray to be twin to Thomas: to admit it when we don't believe but to ask God for what it would take to make us believe. And when God gives that to us, let us live out of that belief so that others can encounter the risen Christ here and now, and having seen can also believe.