Doubting Thomas and Our Own Unbelief

Doubting Thomas and Our Own Unbelief

Articles, Scripture Wisdom

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas – Caravaggio (Public Domain)


The readings from this reflection: Acts 5:12-16; Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Rev. 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; Jn 10:19-31

The Second Sunday of Easter is known as “Divine Mercy Sunday. Our Gospel reading today from John’s Gospel recounts one of the Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ to his Apostles. This gospel reading is proclaimed in each of the three Sunday Lectionary cycles, and this shows the significance of these encounters with the resurrected Jesus. This gospel combines two scenes into one story; Jesus’ appearance to his Apostles after his resurrection and Jesus’ dialogue with Thomas, the Apostle who doubted.

In the Gospel, Jesus appeared to his Apostles, coming through locked doors to say, “Peace be with you,” and then he breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, communicating his authority to forgive sins. The Apostle Thomas, who was also called Didymus, however, was not present at this meeting with Jesus. Later, the other Apostles told Thomas of the encounter, but he did not believe them, saying that unless he could “see the nail marks upon Christ’s hands and put his finger into the nail marks, and place his hand into Christ’s pierced side,” he would not believe.

A week later, Thomas was with the Apostles when again Jesus came through the locked doors and stood in their midst, saying, “Peace be with you.” Jesus then told Thomas to put his finger into the holes in his hands and to place his hand into Jesus’ side so that he could believe. Thomas replied by saying, “My Lord and my God”.

Part of the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus is that he appeared to his Apostles not as a spirit, but in bodily form. Yet, we do not know exactly what this form must have been like. When Mary of Magdala first encountered Jesus after his resurrection, she did not recognize him until after Jesus spoke to her. When Cleopas and his wife, Mary, were walking on the road to Emmaus, they encountered the risen Jesus, but they did not recognize him even though he walked and talked with them all afternoon, until after he broke bread with them that evening. At one point, Jesus asked if his Apostles had anything to eat, and he then ate a piece of fish in their presence, proving that his body was more than just a spirit. We know that Jesus’ body was no longer bound by space and time because he was able to pass through locked doors to approach his Apostles. Yet, still, they could observe the significant marks of his crucifixion present on his resurrected body.

Thomas and his encounter with the risen Jesus dubbed him with the title of “Doubting Thomas.” Our Catholic tradition tells us that this doubting Apostle died a martyr’s death for his faith in his risen Lord Jesus Christ. He also became a messenger of God’s plan of salvation to India, where as a missionary, he gave his life for the Master whom he doubted and later encountered that day long before. Thomas and his response in his encounter with the Risen Lord, “My Lord and my God,” reveals the same response that each of us should make to ourselves every time that we observe the raised bread and the raised chalice of wine at the consecration at every Mass. This is our call to adoration and communication with God the Father as he gives us the gift of the body and blood of God the Son. It has become the exclamation for millions when faced with this Mystery of Mysteries that we are so blessed to be able to observe every time that we attend Mass. Thomas was not necessarily a doubter. Rather, he was a believer, and he was the model for all of us at every Eucharist, which becomes for us a Feast of Mercy.

Finally, I would like to point out that Thomas, the doubting Apostle, represents the reality of the Church that came along after this first community of Christ’s disciples. All but these first few apostles of Jesus did not have the luxury of seeing firsthand the resurrected body and the wounds of Jesus. Those who came along later, including all of us, have to believe without seeing. Like Thomas, we may doubt the news that Jesus, who was crucified and buried, appeared to his apostles. It is our human nature to seek hard evidence to prove that the Jesus who appeared to his apostles after crucifixion is the same Jesus who was indeed crucified. John used Thomas in this story as our representative who obtained the evidence that we must humanly seek. Thomas finds out for each of us who hear the story that the Jesus who was raised is indeed the same Jesus who had died. After we hear the story, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can then stand among those who are forever blessed for having believed without ever seeing, just as Jesus told his apostles many years ago. God bless you.

Deacon Farrar serves in Sacred Heart Parish, Bolivar, MO