Poor “Doubting Thomas” has suffered rather unfairly under that traditional nickname. The problem with it is not only that it ignores the second half of today’s Gospel – in which, of course, he becomes Believing Thomas – but also that it seems to single out Thomas as the one disciple who didn’t believe a report that Jesus had risen. In fact, though, across the four Gospels we find many examples of confusion and doubt among Jesus’ disciples in the wake of the momentous event of the resurrection.
I think one of the reasons the Apostle Thomas is stuck with the name doubting is because we recognize in his struggles some of the pattern of our own faith lives. The road of faith is not a superhighway but a path, a path that we sometimes wander astray from, and might need a guiding hand. We all have moments when our faith wavers a bit. In fact, I’m guessing that most of us have cycled again and again between struggling with difficulties and rejoicing in our faith.
Is it surprising that Thomas doubted what he heard? Jesus had died a shameful and humiliating death. He was not spared the agony. Thomas’s refusal to accept the incredible word of his friends and fellow disciples perhaps is a measure of his sorrow and loss of heart at this cruel death. Maybe it was bitter despair that kept Thomas from their company on the first occasion that Christ visits them.
When Jesus appears to the disciples again and Thomas is present, Jesus doesn’t berate him because his faith is seemingly weaker than that of the other disciples. Quite the opposite. After greeting the apostles, Jesus turns to Thomas. He does not wait for Thomas to turn to him, he does not command Thomas to approach. No, Jesus turns to Thomas and offers him what he needs to have faith. And Thomas responds by acclaiming Jesus as ‘my Lord and my God’.
The first part of Thomas’s response is not surprising. In saying ‘My Lord’ he recognized the Jesus whom he had known, with whom he had walked, whose teachings he had heard. But the response ‘my God’ did not come from the evidence of his senses; Thomas had been granted a special revelation into the real nature of the Christ.
Notice that Thomas received faith in Jesus, from Jesus. Faith is always a gift, a grace, from God. No amount of human reasoning or effort could have brought Thomas to the recognition of Jesus as God. It was a gift of faith, and a statement of faith that resonates through the whole world to this day.
But if Thomas had been absent again, if he had remained mired in despair and refused to come to the upper room with the others, perhaps from pride, or fear, or stubbornness, he would have missed that moment of grace.
We too, when we wander from the path of faith, can expect Jesus to give us what we need to find him. Perhaps it in a line of scripture that calls out to you, a word from a trusted advisor, the beauty of nature or the beauty of human love, that reminds you of who Jesus is.
Like Thomas, we must show up. We need to be open for Jesus so that we do not miss our moment of grace. Having left the path, we should not by pride, fear or stubbornness refuse to be guided back. Faith is a gift but to grow in faith is work. There is no spiritual gain without effort.
We live in hope that our faith will grow stronger as we work to recognize the presence of the risen Lord in the world. As with the apostle Thomas, it is by coming closer to the Lord that we will strengthen our faith.
Thomas the apostle’s faith meant a lot more than his eventual acceptance of Christ’s physical resurrection. Had it ended there, his faith would have been sterile, but we know that faith always bears fruit. Strengthened in his faith, Thomas could begin to share in Christ’s own mission to make known the truth about God.
The fruit of Thomas’ faith is that he went out preaching a gospel of mercy. Preaching mercy is how faith is communicated. Each and every professing Christian is called to witness to this truth. The truth of our faith is communicated by teaching others about God’s mercy. That the Son of God, the Word, took flesh is a proof of this divine mercy. He came to forgive, to reconcile men with one another and with their creator. Christ’s life, death and resurrection must be for us and for the world a sign of God’s infinite mercy.
As we prepare to move into the post-Easter period on this Sunday of Divine Mercy, we cannot ignore our charge to teach the world about God’s mercy. It means coming out of ourselves to find and teach those who have not heard, or have forgotten, about God’s infinite mercy. As Pope Francis once said, “There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!”
We need not follow in St. Thomas’ time of despair and doubt, but we should always be open to Jesus strengthening our faith. It is a faith that allows us to exclaim: “My Lord and my God”.