Thought for the week - 3 July
“Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God’”
One way or another St. Thomas the Apostle must be one of the most misunderstood men in the Bible. It is easy to notice his faults and yet ignore his virtues. This is all the more since we are told very little about him, and all that we are told is to be found in St. John’s Gospel; in the other gospels he is just a name. What are the facts about him as far as John is concerned?
There are three passages about him from which his character emerges.
First of all he is a courageous man. We discover this from chapter 11 which deals with the death of Lazarus. Jesus alarms his disciples by saying he is going to Bethany in Judea to raise Lazarus. Judea was hostile to Jesus. The authorities in Jerusalem were plotting to have him killed. To go to Judaea at that time was dangerous, and perhaps some of the disciples were reluctant to go there: but not Thomas. He said, “let us go there, that we may die with him.”
Thomas knew it was dangerous but was prepared to take the risk. If Jesus was going to Jerusalem then he was going too. If Jesus was prepared to face death then so would he. He was a brave man, faithful to death.
He was also an honest man, a man of integrity. He would not pretend to a knowledge or faith he did not have. In chapter 14 Jesus tells the disciples that he going to prepare a place for them and says, “Where I am going you know, and the way you know.” “Lord,” says Thomas, “we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” And Thomas’ honesty brings that wonderful reply: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Thomas is one who is not afraid to ask questions, even of Jesus himself. He wants to know for himself; which of course brings us to the upper room in Jerusalem. “But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
Thomas doubts, not as is often supposed, because of lack of faith but because of his honesty, his refusal to accept things simply on the word of others. He wants to see for himself. Thomas is one who asks questions and wants evidence on which to base his undoubted faith. And there is nothing wrong with this.
But why was it that Thomas was not with the others on that Easter evening. We don’t know.
Perhaps he had gone off on his own to think things over. To think about all that Jesus had said to make sense of what had happened in that confused and confusing weekend. He had seen what had happened to Jesus, if only from afar. He knew that his hands would be pierced and that there was a gash in his side. He must have know this to make the statement he subsequently made: ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
It is fair comment. Crucifixion is meant to kill and kill painfully. No one survives such an ordeal and Thomas was honest and reasonable in his doubt. He couldn’t pretend otherwise. He couldn’t force himself to believe what the others had told him.
A week later Thomas was with the other disciples in the upper room when Jesus appeared once more. “A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Thomas does not need to do what he said he wanted to do the week before and what Jesus now asks him to: ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”
There is no longer any need. He has seen the Risen Lord and now there is no longer any doubt. He recognizes who Jesus is in way the others have not yet recognized. Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ It is an act of faith and of worship drawn from his questioning honesty.
And so in Thomas we have a man of courage; a man of
honesty; but above all, in the end, a man of faith.”
Almighty and eternal God,
who, for the firmer foundation of our faith,
allowed your holy apostle Thomas to doubt the resurrection of your Son
till word and sight convinced him:
grant to us, who have not seen, that we also may believe
and so confess Christ as our Lord and our God;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.