Reflection on Doubting Thomas
”Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus in John 20:24-29, NRSV.
“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” Khalil Gilbran.
“The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.” Malcolm Guite, in his poem St Thomas the Apostle.
“I will not believe,” says Thomas in today’s Gospel and, although he’s still often called doubting Thomas, he’s not just doubting that the other apostles have seen Jesus but is actually refusing what they claim. This is despite the fact that reliable witnesses – many of them people he knows – have been saying that Jesus is alive, that his tomb is empty and that his grave clothes have been found neatly folded and not needed. It isn’t Jesus’s death that Thomas is struggling with but his resurrection – after so terrible a death, how can he be alive?
However, Thomas may have had good reason for his doubts: Jesus had appeared to the disciples locked in the upper room a week earlier but it seems that this had little effect on them as they’re still behind locked doors when Jesus reappears to them. Their encounter with him seems to have changed their behaviour very little and perhaps they need time to come to terms with what’s happening. They still seem to be scared and hiding away for fear of the consequences and, after all that’s happened, that’s understandable.
Thomas is mentioned earlier in the Gospel when he questions Jesus about where he’s going and clearly doesn’t comprehend what Jesus means when he tells them he‘s going ahead of them. “How can we know the way?” he asks, drawing forth the words from Jesus that are used at so many funerals, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:5,6) Clearly, Thomas has always questioned events, despite being with Jesus for three years and watching his ministry, healing and miracles unfold.
Now, although others had been convinced by the sight or testimony of his resurrection, Thomas insists that he must not only see but touch the wounds of Jesus to accept that he’s alive. It’s a tall order as Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to touch him that first Easter Day – and yet Jesus honours what Thomas asks of him by inviting him to see and touch the marks of the nails and spear. He is identified by the scars of what he has been through, a wounded saviour who has experienced the terrible depths of human suffering and yet still responds with love and compassion. Rather than chiding Thomas, Jesus enables him to respond with the cry, “My Lord and my God!” Because of the honesty of his doubts and wanting to discover for himself rather than be told by others what to think, Thomas makes the enormous leap of then realising that this is his Lord and God before him. He does this before the other apostles and it’s because he refuses to pretend to believe but rather waits to to see, touch and believe for himself.
Perhaps, at times, we feel pressure to accept or do things because other people want us to or sometimes we may struggle to accept their word. Thomas was actually being told the truth in what the other apostles said – is it possible that there is some truth in what others may be telling us, that we may be denying? Waiting for understanding or belief to grow can be lonely and challenging but being honest about doubts also enables us to be inspired by Thomas’ example as he went on to take the Gospel to India, where his name is still common. Thomas, like Didymus, actually means twin – and perhaps we are twinned with him in the doubts he has the courage to express and which lead to so huge a leap of faith.
Jesus also seemed to know what Thomas needed and responded to it. The same can be true for us as we begin to see, through the scriptures and prayer, how our needs and doubts can also be met by him. Jesus tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” – coming to believe may imply a transition, a gradual realisation or awakening which is part of many faith journeys. Jesus’ words can bring blessing to us down the ages, too, if we have the faith to accept them – or do you doubt that?!
With my prayers; pob bendith,