He will forever more be known as the doubter. As “Doubting Thomas”. A nickname that sticks and stands the test of time. He did, after all, doubt that Jesus had returned, had risen. Yes, it’s Doubting Thomas. And that’s too bad…
… because he could also have been known by another name. For example, earlier, when Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus has died and that he must go to pay a visit, his followers argued that it would be too dangerous a trek, too risky to go. Jesus was now beginning to aggravate the Jewish leaders and his followers feared for their leader’s life. Thomas defiantly said: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). Based on this incident, he could have been remembered as… Brave Thomas.
We also saw that at one Passover meal, which we now refer to as The Last Supper, normally a time of great joy… Jesus was somber and spoke to his disciples cryptically. Jesus offered powerful words during these moments and his apostles seemed pretty confused, wondering what exactly he was getting at, not at all understanding their master’s statements. At one point, when Jesus was referring to his imminent departure, it was Thomas who asked for clarification (John 14:5). Thomas’ question prompted these words from Jesus: “I am the way, the truth and the light…” (John 14:6). Thomas sought the truth, he wanted to understand. Based on this, he could have been remembered as… Seeking Thomas.
I am going to give Brave Thomas, aka Seeking Thomas, a bit of slack here. In today’s Gospel story, he was the only one of the group who did not have a personal encounter with the Risen Christ. This must have been a powerful event… one of the most powerful in history. His closest friends, with whom he had been through so much, now had a common experience without him. I wonder how that made him feel when he rejoined the group later? Sad? Bitter? Confused? Longing? Was his “doubt” more about those emotions than actual doubt? I wonder.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is not scolding Thomas or, I would say, even disappointed with him. He is teaching. And, more precisely, he is directly answering Thomas’ prayer, satisfying the disciple’s intense desire to experience the Risen Lord just as his friends had. Thomas’ reply to this is simple and moving: “My Lord and my God.” That expression contains the ultimate acknowledgement of who Jesus was and of the Resurrection itself.
Doubting is natural. And so, seeking signs of the Risen Lord is to be expected among the followers. This must be why we, like Thomas, seek signs. Hope for proof. Look to be affirmed in our beliefs. Sometimes, in our anguish, we can be quite desperate in our desire to reach out and touch the wounds in his hands and chest. We can long to look into our Savior’s eyes, to be reassured that he is with us always. The longing of Thomas… is ours as well.
We are not wrong to seek signs. But I would suggest that we would do well to seek subtler signs. Subtler signs that come in the silence. When we are at peace because we truly disconnect and resist the constant temptations to distract ourselves away from seeking his gaze. The subtler signs that can only make their way to us when we open up some room inside of us by removing the sin that fills that space otherwise. I suggest that we yearn for the kind of miracles that come to us to soften our hearts. That we be brave and earnest enough, like Thomas, to be humble, and to always lead with love.
The subtler signs…
We are all a great work in progress. We were created to find our way back to the one who created us out of love. Back to the one who sent his only Son to guide our way. Often, that way is not marked with billboards or neon signs. Some of us never seem to get the big, dramatic, obvious miracle. Some of us are left out of that. But that’s ok because, like Thomas, Jesus will come back for us.