As a Thomas myself, I’ve always thought that this Gospel is about the vivid encounter between Jesus and “doubting Thomas”. But as I’ve had the opportunity to do more reflection, study, and pray on the whole of the passage, I found some important elements that I’d passed over, so I want to put them out for us. Also, one line from our discussion last week has really stuck in my mind: I think it was attributed to Father Tim Kelleher: “We are Easter People in a Good Friday world.” So with that, here goes…
In this week’s Gospel, the disciples, the first “Easter people”, start the first Easter Sunday this way: “the doors were locked…out of fear.” What picture does that paint? The disciples are hunkered down, not knowing where to go or what to do. The attitudes and actions that led to Jesus’ condemnation, torture, and death on the Cross on Good Friday were running rampant outside those locked doors. That’s the Good Friday world, and the disciples are just trying to keep it out. Do they even know what to do at that point?
But the risen Jesus is with them, and he knows exactly what to do. He simply appears to them, and his first words are “Peace… Peace be with you.” Immediately all is transformed: they rejoice in his presence. And Jesus continues: “As the Father has sent me, I send you.” He is sending them out of the locked room. What will he give them to send them out into that hostile, violent world – arms, money, allies? No, just his breath, which brings the Holy Spirit upon them; for what purpose? To forgive sins. This truly is something new and revolutionary. This is the first manifestation of what it means to be an Easter person: a person of peace, of forgiveness, of faith in the one who has risen.
And this really struck me: this first breath of the Spirit wells up directly from Christ’s body, with all the wounds that had been inflicted on it. Pope Francis picks up this detail in his Divine Mercy Sunday homilies. It gives a concrete-ness to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not ephemeral; it’s the breath of the wounded, crucified Christ. And I understand better why this day is celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday.
And then we get to Thomas, and his celebrated skepticism about Jesus risen from the dead. It’s easy to put him down – but who among us has not doubted or denied something important. It’s a very human trait. (And who knows why Thomas was away the first time – maybe finding food for the disciples or another important task…)
But no matter… when Jesus appears the following week, Jesus knows what is in Thomas’ mind and his heart. And he patiently stands before him: here, reach out and touch, feel my wounds. If this is what it takes to get you to believe who I am, go ahead, here I am. With that, Thomas doesn’t just say, “ok, you’ve convinced me.” Instead, he gives that great exclamation, “my Lord and my God!” With that he acknowledges Christ’s divinity – the first disciple to be so explicit.
We may view Jesus’ offer to Thomas to touch his wounds as almost a dare, because Thomas was not easy to convince. The encounter ends with, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” But even though Thomas had to see to believe, his life was a blessed one. According to the lives of the saints, he went about his mission as an apostle with zeal and courage for another 40 years. Ancient tradition has it that Thomas even brought the faith all the way to far-off India.
I want to go back to “touching the wounds.” Focus just on that image for a moment; I found it powerful and moving. Pope Francis sees it as an invitation – an invitation not just to Thomas, but to us. Francis teaches that the wounds of Jesus are here among us today, in our wounded souls and bodies, especially those of the left behind and in need in this Good Friday world. To be full followers of Christ, not only should we be believers, but we should seek out those wounded in acts of mercy, and touch and try to heal them. In a July 2013 daily Mass, he says:
“How can I find the wounds of Jesus today? I cannot see them as Thomas saw them. I find them in doing works of mercy. In giving to the body and the soul – but I stress the body – of your injured brethren, for they are hungry, thirsty, naked, humiliated, slaves, in prison, in hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus in our day; and Jesus asks us to make an act of faith.”
This Gospel passage at the beginning of the Easter season begins the story of Christian mercy, the story of the Easter people. We only know a little bit of the story. John states that Jesus did many other signs which are not written in this book. In the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples left that locked room, and went on to do many signs and wonders. The refrain of our beautiful Psalm today reminds us that God’s mercy endures “forever”. And in Revelation, the Son of Man is “alive forever and ever.”
We, as followers of Christ, are sent forth to write our own chapters. As Pope Francis says, “the Gospel of mercy remains an open book, in which the signs of Christ’s disciples – concrete acts of love and the best witness to mercy – continue to be written. We are all called to become living writers of the Gospel.”
It’s a beautiful and inspiring concept. But to write the chapter that we aspire to write, that God wants us to write, is not easy. I greatly value being able to share these thoughts with you, companions on the journey, and hope they lead to fruitful discussion and help us become Easter people in the Good Friday world. Let’s see where It goes…