By the Waters of Babylon –Ps 137:1
I am sure that the other disciples resented Thomas. This time, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, wasn’t the first time that Thomas’ candid honesty had irritated the other disciples. At the Last Supper, Thomas had asked Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” The other apostles probably resented the question as uninspired and very poorly timed.
They were probably not very surprised when Thomas did not join them after the crucifixion. He had never been a very gracious companion, and there was no reason for them to think he would seek their company now.
When the risen Christ appeared to the apostles, only ten were there to witness the impossible. We don’t know if they went out looking for Thomas to share the news with him, or if they waited until Thomas found his way back to them, led by some stubborn hope. All we know is that with his customary honesty, courage, and despair, he rejected what they had to say. Filled with doubt and skepticism, he told his friends that he just didn’t believe they were telling the truth. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas’ crude words must have hurt him more than the words hurt the others. For the other apostles, Thomas’ words were just the usual blasphemy which they had come to expect from him. But, for Thomas, these words were a creed. They were the creed of a mortal man trapped by his own mortality. The other ten had the easy part now. They had seen the dawning of the new hope which Thomas had not seen, and they were impatient with him.
But, Jesus was not impatient. He had not forgotten that Thomas was the only one who had been ready to go with him to the side of Lazarus. Jesus never lost patience with Thomas because there is a lot more value in honest doubt than there ever is in blind belief. Belief can be blind and unquestioning to a fault. Gullibility and superstition and prejudice are also total blindness. The lazy acceptance of worn-out theories and practices, which often become enshrined as dogma, is not the nature of a vital Christian life. Very often, the lazy acceptance of things that are neither dogma nor tradition has given respectability to hatred and inhumanity. Very often, blind acceptance of “things as they are” has retarded the progress of the development of our children and has kept the spirit of humanity in a prolonged and unlovely infancy.
Thomas would not believe just because somebody said so. But, he was capable of faith because faith is a personal trust. Faith has the unflinching courage and honesty to accept not only the best but also the worst. We often try to discourage doubt in matters of religion. But, a blind acceptance leads to far less courage and conviction than sincere doubt and questioning.
We, in the Church, have no need to protect Jesus from the investigations of sincere seekers, or even from those who make fun of our faith. Sincere seekers, and those with open, inquiring minds, will always find more than they came for when they come looking. Those who come to scoff will often stay to pray. Only those who are totally uncritical, or anxiously protective, stand to lose anything at all. They often stand firmly protecting things while our Lord is showing us his wounded hands. While the apostles were expressing frustration and dissatisfaction with Thomas’ doubts, Thomas was being shown the Lord’s hands and side.
Thomas’ response was the same as any doubter who has come face to face with the Lord, “My Lord and my God,” he exclaims and, saying that he has moved from being a doubter to being a real apostle. Not in spite of his doubt, but because of his doubt and openness, he has matured. Jesus didn’t reject Thomas because of his doubt. Instead, he granted Thomas the extraordinary honor of a special appearance. Jesus knew how badly the world needs people like Thomas. The mind of the masses of people in our world is always on sale to the highest bidder. The mind of a man or woman who insists on being an individual, with all the loneliness and ridicule involved, that mind is never for sale. This is the sort of person that Christianity needs in every age – the scholar who will pursue truth wherever it leads him — the mature person who is able to see his fellow humans as persons rather than as bearers of inconvenient labels — the humanist whose curiosity and compassion not only looks for meaning in this life but also meaning beyond this life.
If there is a need for a patron saint for this age of ours, I would nominate Thomas. In the midst of doubt and despair, with Thomas, we can meet the risen Lord and proclaim, “My Lord and my God.” Then, with Thomas, we hear the blessing which we long for: “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.”