Let Thomas be Thomas

Al Cariño
April 27, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

For the evangelist John, Easter is also Pentecost. While the Synoptics used the phrases "he gave up his spirit" (Matthew), "he breathed his last" (Mark), and "he expired" (Luke) in describing the death of Jesus, John used the phrase "handed over the spirit." With this, he wants to express a double nuance to the death of Jesus: as giving up His last breath or spirit-life and as passing on the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus could already say to the disciples gathered in the upper room on the first Easter night, "Receive the holy Spirit." On the other hand, the three evangelists place this event only at the Descent of the Holy Spirit, 40 days after Jesus had returned to His Father.

In the gospel reading (Jn. 20:19-31), we see the disciples huddled in the upper room, hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. But the apostle Thomas was not with them. Why? To answer this, let us focus on the person and character of Thomas.

Thomas is often described as the "doubting Thomas." But the gospels, specially that of John, depict him in a different way, namely, as the "courageous Thomas." And this because of his uncanny habit of speaking clearly his opposing views, regardless of the pressures to agree or remain silent. In Jn. 11:16, after Christ told His disciples that He wanted to go to Judea despite the fact that His life was in jeopardy, Thomas exhorts the others, "Let us also go to die with him."

In Jn. 14:5, Jesus was telling the Twelve about eternal life and then added, "Where I am going you know the way." In reality they did not know what Jesus was talking about but lest they appear stupid, no one asked for any clarification. But not Thomas. Breaking into the Lord's dialogue, he asked, "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Had he remained silent like the rest, we never would have heard the great summary of the Lord's person and mission: "I am the way, the truth, and the life."

Thomas was independent minded. He was not the type who just went along with the tide. Thus, while the other disciples needed the security of numbers and hid behind bolted doors, Thomas was outside, in the streets - all by his lonesome self. He was just that kind of a guy. No wonder he was not present when the risen Christ made His unscheduled visit that first Easter night.

When Thomas was with them the following week, the others joyfully greeted him in unison, "We've seen the Lord." Thomas appeared unimpressed and simply said that he wanted to see the wounds before he could share their joy. When Jesus appeared again shortly and invited him to see and touch His wounds, Thomas offered no apologies and did not try to "explain" his need for further proof. The Truth was now before him and he expressed what he felt by falling on his knees saying, "My Lord and my God" - a pure and simple act of adoration. Thomas came to believe in the risen Christ in the same way as the other disciples did - when he saw Him for himself.

It was because of this unique character of Thomas that he stands for all those who have not seen the Lord but are asked to believe in Him. If Thomas did not wait to see Jesus before he believed in Him, then the beatitude aimed at the generations of people who will not see the risen Lord would not have been uttered by Jesus: "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." We have Thomas with his unique character to thank for that.

What lesson can we draw from the person and character of Thomas? A very simple but essential one. Even if faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, it does not mean that once we have received it, we will have it with us for the rest of our life. Faith can die from a lifetime of neglect. Why? Because faith is a life, and like any life it can wither if left untended. Finally, like the seed that has sprouted amidst thorns, the life of faith may be strangled to death if left untended.

This is what Thomas wanted to prevent from happening to our faith. Thus, just as he did, he wants us to think, probe, and question our faith. He wants us to make faith real and meaningful to us. In short, he wants us to have that kind of faith which is born out of prayer and conviction, a faith which is alive, a faith we live by come what may, a faith which leads to good works.

Why? Because faith, like love, is constantly exposed to the temptations of doubt and indifference. And only that faith which is thought about, probed, questioned and therefore allowed to grow and mature in the process can stand against the doubt and indifference that constantly bombard believers in our skeptical and indifferent contemporary world.

If Jesus allowed Thomas to be Thomas, to be himself, let us do no less with the Thomases among us.