15 April 2007

WHAT IF THOMAS DID NOT DOUBT?

2nd Sunday of Easter
Jn 20:19-31

Almost everything we know about Jesus comes from the gospels. But the gospels do not tell us everything we want to know about Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us why: “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25). This testimony, however, does not stop us from asking questions at almost every page of the gospels. Nevertheless, as it is and will always be, many of our questions will never be answered. We need to wait to get to heaven and ask Jesus Himself to answer our questions first hand.

The gospels tell us not only about Jesus. We also come to know about the disciples of Jesus through them. Among His disciples are the group of men who are collectively called “The Twelve”. One of The Twelve is Thomas.

The gospels do not tell us much about Thomas. Unfortunately, among the few we know about Thomas from the gospels, it is his doubting that got stuck in our minds.

When Jesus appeared to the apostles on the first Easter evening, Thomas was not with them. Where Thomas was, the gospels are silent. We can only guess. Perhaps, Thomas was so broken-hearted over the fact that Jesus died and, in confusion, he got himself isolated from the rest of the apostles. But the other ten were just as broken-hearted as he was. Perhaps, Thomas felt guilty for having abandoned Jesus and, in remorse, he locked himself up inside some unknown place. But, save John the Beloved, all the rest were just as guilty as he was. Thomas, however, had a reason to be more ashamed of himself than the other ten. In Jn 11:16, Thomas persuaded them to die with Jesus, but he himself ran for his own safety when Jesus was dying alone. Well, of course, Simon Peter also said that he was ready to die with Jesus and yet betrayed Him thrice. But at least, Simon Peter did not try persuading his fellow apostles to die with Jesus but left Jesus anyway. Thomas had to face to show not only Jesus but his fellow apostles as well. Thus, while he shared many thrilling moments with the other apostles, Thomas missed the biggest thrill of all: the first appearance of Jesus to His apostles on the evening of His resurrection.

When finally, Thomas was with the other ten, he was even so bullheaded towards them when they informed him that Jesus had risen and He actually appeared to them. His words sound even imprudent, for who was he to dictate the terms of surrendering to the Lord when he said, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in His hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into His side, I refuse to believe.” “Refuse” is a strong word, is it not? While we cannot be certain about the reason for Thomas’ refusal to believe, we may, however, explore some possibilities.

It cannot be said that Thomas thought that his fellow apostles were willfully circulating a lie. It is more possible to think that, with the loss of Jesus weighing so indescribably heavy upon them, Thomas thought that the other apostles had actually but unconsciously fooled themselves. Could it be that they were tricked by a phantom? They wanted so badly to see Jesus that they imagine they had in fact seen Him. We know this kind of experience. Sometimes, wishing hard enough can give birth to a phantom and make something that is not so seem to be so.

It is here that Thomas’ doubt proves to be very important for all ages. While we are comfortable with the belief in the resurrection of Jesus, undoubtedly, there are still skeptics in our midst. When a group of archeologists recently reported to the media that they found the remains of Jesus – together with the remains of Mary and Judas – skepticism about the Lord’s resurrection showed its ugly and stubborn face again. But the fact that among the eleven, one doubted, ironically, makes our point about the Lord’s resurrection even stronger.

Ever since Jesus resurrected, skeptics keep on suggesting that the apostles underwent a collective hallucination. They theorize that the Risen Jesus was actually a product of the apostles’ wishful thinking. Thus, they continue to find even the minutest possible proof that Jesus did not actually physically resurrect. Rather, He resurrected only spiritually in the hearts of His followers. There is big problem with such a nagging proposal and the Gospel today shouts it right to everyone’s face: the skeptics’ theory forgets Thomas. Suppose the other apostles were actually fooled by their wishful thinking that Jesus was alive, that they longed to see the Lord so much that they thought they heard His voice, saw His wounds, and ate a meal with Him. But what about Thomas?

The greater the shame, the greater the yearning to make up for the blunder committed. The greater the guilt, the greater the wish to reverse the wrong done. The greater the remorse of a person for abandoning his friend to die, the greater that person’s longing to see his friend alive again. Proudly persuading his fellow apostles to die with Jesus but cowardly deserting Jesus like the rest, no one could have wished Jesus alive more than Thomas could. But wishing did not make him think it so. He knew it could not be so. But it was so: Jesus truly had risen from the dead and is alive forever more. Ironically, Thomas’ doubt should negate all doubts about the Lord’s physical resurrection. Thomas is the final refutation of the logic that the Easter story was a collective hallucination of the apostles.

When Thomas, kneeling before the Risen Jesus, finally said, “My Lord and My God,” each one of us – including the skeptics – were actually kneeling before Jesus and professing faith in His resurrection. There was absolutely no way to disprove the Easter story, for it is so empirical true as Thomas’ doubt ironically proved.

If there are skeptics about the Lord’s resurrection, there are also skeptics about the Lord’s merciful love. As today is the Feast of the Divine Mercy, we are invited to believe in the Lord’s resurrection as the greatest proof of His mercy. And having believed in the Lord’s resurrection as the greatest proof of His mercy, we are being sent forth to be missionaries of the Lord’s merciful love. We cannot preach about the mercy of God unless we first believe in the resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. We cannot trust in God’s mercy if we doubt that He raised His only begotten Son from the dead to be the first-born among many brothers and sisters.

What if Thomas did not doubt the Lord’s resurrection? Then, the skeptics have all the right to strongly propose that the Easter story is nothing but a lie circulated by hallucinating apostles of Jesus. But Thomas doubted and so we believe even more. And Thomas likewise believed and so we never doubt.

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