April 26-27, 2003, Second Sunday of Easter, Cycle B
Today’s gospel story of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples, both with and without Thomas, is a very familiar story, and not just to Christians. But I suspect that most people have exactly the wrong impression from what the story actually says. I say this based on the fact that the name “doubting Thomas” is considered an insult. It is used to describe one who is a stubborn skeptic, or one who is somehow lacking in faith. So let’s start by looking at what the story really says.
There are only three places in the Gospels that we hear anything about Thomas beyond his name, and all three are in John’s Gospel. The first time is when Jesus has just learned of the death of his friend Lazarus. When Jesus announces that he is going to be with Lazarus, all the disciples try to dissuade him because he would be going into a region where Jesus has many enemies. It is Thomas that breaks the logjam by declaring that, “Let us also go to die with him!” The second time is during the last supper when Jesus is trying to explain why he has to leave them. Thomas begs him to show them the way to be with him. From these two small encounters we see that Thomas is no shrinking violet, and that his love for Jesus makes him want to be with him, whatever the cost.
Finally what does the story we hear today reveal about Thomas? When Jesus appears before the disciples the first time, they are all locked up in the room, paralyzed by fear. Except for Thomas. Thomas has not let his fear or his grief paralyze him. And nowhere in the story is Thomas compared unfavorably with the other disciples. The other disciples did not believe without seeing; they all saw Jesus. And Jesus does not chastise Thomas for demanding to see him. He comes before Thomas ready to satisfy Thomas’ need to see in order to believe. When his need is fill, Thomas utters the only direct confession that Jesus is God in the Gospels.
Some people would say that Jesus’ saying, “Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed” is comparing those who have believed without seeing as more favored than those who came to belief from seeing. Many scripture scholars disagree with that. The Gospel of John was written in the last decade of the first century, some 50 years after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It is probable that there were none in the author’s community old enough to have seen Jesus first hand. So the author includes this blessing to assure them that their faith, which is based on hearing the accounts of eyewitnesses, is in no way inferior to that of the eyewitnesses.
So if we read this story with attention, it becomes obvious that Thomas is to be admired and imitated. All of the Gospels and several of Paul’s letters make it clear that seeing the risen Christ was a very important factor in the disciples’ faith. We have a God who knows that human beings are built in such a way that their faith needs support from the senses. God not only knows this but also is ready to provide that support. When you get down to it, isn’t that one of the main reasons for God becoming human?
Doubt is a very important part of faith. The Spanish philosopher Miguel Unamuno wisely said that, “"Life is doubt, And faith without doubt is nothing but death." Unfortunately many of us were raised in our faith with a very fundamentalist approach of “pray, pay, and obey.” To paraphrase Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own”: There’s no doubting in Catholicism!
But today’s readings tell us different: there is doubt in Catholicism, because doubt is part of any relationship involving humans, even this relationship we are called to with God. Gamaliel Bailey says, “Where doubt is, there truth is – it is her shadow.”
So how are we to handle this doubt? I would suggest we look to Thomas, our Twin, for a good model. The first thing is to articulate our doubts. Write them down. Then try to name what would overcome each of them. And then go after that – don’t let the doubt just sit there. Here again we should follow Thomas – go to an authoritative source. Don’t try to answer your doubts about your faith by reading the Globe or the Herald. Try the new Catechism of the Catholic Church; try someone whose knowledge of faith you respect. One way we have been urging is to gather a small faith group, and explore your doubts together.
The most important
thing we do is to bring our doubts to this Eucharistic celebration. We thank
God for the doubt that drives us to know Him better. And we come to his table
to receive communion so that for someone we meet in the coming days, we might
be the body and blood of Christ that satisfies their need to see in order to