A story is told about a preacher who began his sermon by saying: “Brothers and sisters, here you are coming to pray for rain. I’d just like to ask you some questions. Where are your umbrellas? Do you have some doubts that the Lord will answer our prayers? Don’t you have faith in the power of God?”
The expression “Doubting Thomas” has been used to refer to a skeptic who does not want to believe without direct personal and even empirical and physical evidence. It is in reference to the Apostle Thomas who refused to believe that Jesus had risen and had appeared to the disciples, until he could see and touch the wounds that Jesus had received on the cross.
While it was indeed true that Thomas doubted, he did not persist in his doubts. In fact, he uttered the greatest expression of faith in the Gospels and even in the entire Bible: “My Lord and my God.” More than a declaration of faith in the event of the Resurrection, this sublime expression was an act of adoration before the Divine Son of God risen from the dead.
The transition from a Doubting Thomas to a Believing Thomasshould be consoling for us. This reminds us that people can change. People can experience transformation. Thus, we can never put people in a box and condemn them to stagnation or to helplessness. The Lord is risen and the power of the resurrection is available to all of us. Perhaps, all that is needed is a small opening for the Lord and we can never be the same again.
How did this transformation of Thomas happen? What did Jesus do so that Thomas would not persist in his disbelief? What did the other disciples contribute to this transformation?
The gospel passage today is composed of two resurrection appearances of Jesus: first to the disciples who were locked in a room on Easter evening when Thomas was absent and the second, a week later, to the same group of disciples but with Thomas present.
We do not know why Thomas was absent in the first appearance of Jesus. We can only make some conjectures. Like the other disciples, he must have been deeply affected by what had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem – the crucifixion and death of the Master. His hopes in Jesus must have crumbled into pieces and perhaps he felt he needed to attend to his wounds and frustrations just by himself. Whatever was the reason for Thomas’s absence when Jesus first appeared to the band of disciples, a very important lesson can be learned from this incident.
Thomas, as a result, missed the risen Jesus when he first appeared. Of course, there is a time for us to be alone, but sometimes we can miss a lot when we isolate ourselves from our families and communities, whether intentionally or by mere negligence on our part. Some opportunities are lost because we are, for example, always late, we do not show up when we should be present, when we prefer to be lone rangers and not to walk with others. When we withdraw ourselves from others, we do not only deprive others of our gift of presence; we also become the ultimate losers of what our presence in and with the community can actually bring.
The succeeding gesture of the other disciples in the story is very significant. The gospel tells us that the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord. How were the other disciples able to tell Thomas about the appearance of the Risen Lord? They must have searched for him. The other disciples could not contain the news of the appearance of Jesus just for themselves. They had seen the Lord and they had believed and they must share this with Thomas so that he too could believe at least on the basis of their testimony.
Fr. Francis Fernandez says: “That’s what we have to do also. For many men and women, Christ is, as it were, dead, because he hardly means a thing to them. He counts for almost nothing in their lives. Our faith in the Risen Christ impels us to go to those people, to tell them in a thousand different ways that Christ is alive, that we unite ourselves to him by faith and love every day, that he guides and gives meaning to our lives.”
While we have to do what we need to do, we must also recognize that ultimately faith is a gift that can only come from God. The gospel tells us that Thomas was not convinced by the testimony and efforts of the other disciples. He wanted to see Jesus for himself. In fact, he wanted to see physical proofs that Jesus had indeed risen. But what the other disciples did was still very important. It was all part of the journey of Thomas from disbelief to great faith in the Risen Lord.
Then, we witness that the concern of Jesus was not only for the disciples as a collective group; it was also very personal and particular. A week later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples in the presence of the doubting and skeptical Thomas. Jesus extended the same greeting of peace that he had extended to the other disciples. He showed him the same forgiveness, peace and mercy that he had shown to the other disciples: no recrimination, no blame, no accusation. In fact, he accommodated Thomas’s demand for a physical proof of his resurrection.
We do not know if Thomas did poke his finger into the wounds of Jesus. Thomas, after hearing the words of Jesus inviting him to physically probe his wounds, he already uttered, “My Lord and my God.” The very presence of the Risen Jesus, more than the physical proofs, was more than enough for Thomas to believe and adore Jesus.
Thomas transitioned from being a Doubting Thomas to a Believing Thomas because his fellow disciples did not abandon him in his incredulity and, more importantly, because Jesus did not give up on him. Jesus in His Divine Mercy and Love for all his Disciples, both as a community and as individuals, went back to appear again for the sake of Thomas. We can say that more than the physical proof of the Risen Lord’s presence, what brought Thomas to believe was the compassionate, loving, merciful, forgiving and persistent presence that the Risen Jesus showed him and the other disciples. Just as Jesus had done this in his earthly presence, he continued to do the same in His Risen presence.
There is something extremely important here to learn in the way we deal with those who are doubting and faltering in their faith. In fact, with anyone who may be experiencing some difficulty. Jesus showed so much mercy, compassion and patience. He reached out to his disciples where they were at the moment. Then, slowly he raised them up – encouraging them, strengthening them and even challenging them on the way.
Thus, in the Gospel, Jesus also presented a kind of faith that is not based on any physical witness of his presence. “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.” We have not seen the Lord in a way the Apostles and other contemporary disciples of Jesus saw him and yet we believe. We believe by faith and not by sight.
Indeed, in the realm of Christian faith, more than “To see is to believe,” it is “To believe is to see.” We believe by faith in our hearts and we see as God sees and as we must see.
The journey of faith, according to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is a journey of a life time, a journey that starts at baptism and last until we reach our final destiny with God forever. It is consoling to know that the Risen Jesus continues to journey with us. He can never abandon us. With Thomas the Apostle, may each of us continue to see and experience the Lord of Divine Mercy with the eyes of faith and the heart of love and hope, believing and proclaiming that he is indeed “My Lord and my God.”