Saturday, May 3, 2008

Thomas Sunday (part 2)

Part Two:
The Appearance to Thomas

Now we turn to the climax of the story. As the Scripture tells us, Thomas was not present the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples. Exactly why, we have no idea, nor is it important. What is significant is that when Thomas returned and the disciples told him about Jesus’ visit, he did not believe them. Now when you think about Thomas, what do you think about? Admit it—you probably think primarily about his doubt in this story. It is a shame that most people, when they think about Thomas, remember him primarily as “Doubting Thomas.” We need to adjust our negative impression about Thomas for three reasons.

First, to think of Thomas primarily as the famous doubter is like remembering Abraham Lincoln for the many elections that he lost, for remembering Babe Ruth for being the batter with the all-time most strikeouts, for remembering Nolan Ryan for having walked the most batters in history. This one episode of doubt in Thomas’ life is greatly overshadowed by his great courage and his loyalty to Jesus. One Scripture that is not often quoted is John 11:16. In this passage, Jesus is preparing to go and raise Lazarus from the dead. In doing so, he had to return to the province of Judea, where the Jewish authorities were waiting to arrest him. When the other disciples heard Jesus say, “Let us go to Judea again,” they said “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone you, and are you going again?” Thomas, on the other hand, said “Let us also go, that we may die with him!” (John 11:7-8,16). Also, Thomas’ missionary career after Pentecost, which we will examine later, also proves his great courage and dedication to Christ.

A second reason why we should not fault Thomas for his doubt is that his reaction was perfectly normal. Thomas was undoubtedly still in a state of shock from the tragedy of the crucifixion, and he did not find it easy to think of its consequences as being annulled. Indeed, who had ever heard of someone who had been so brutally executed coming back to life?

A third thing that we should keep in mind before judging Thomas is that sometimes in the spiritual life, doubt is not such a bad thing. A certain degree of doubt can lead us to a deeper faith. As Fr. Anthony Coniaris writes, “Faith rarely comes without questioning and doubt. In fact, it usually comes through questioning and doubt. As one great saint said, ‘The soul makes its greatest progress when it travels in the dark, not knowing the way.’”

Fr. Coniaris goes on to say, “We need a faith like Thomas’—a faith that allows us to express our honest doubts to God and yet compels us to remain in companionship with the disciples just as Thomas, though skeptical, was still with them ‘eight days later’ when Jesus appeared to them. As He appeared to Thomas, Jesus will appear to us through His word or through a providential happening in our lives to strengthen us in our faith.”[1] There is nothing wrong with honestly expressing our doubts to God when we have them. But we must not allow our doubts to take over and to drive a wedge between us and God. We must always counterbalance our doubts with the assurance that God exists, that he loves us, and that he knows what is best for us, no matter what may happen to us.

After eight more days, Jesus again appeared to the disciples in the same room, and this time Thomas was with them. Instead of rebuking or condemning Thomas, Jesus invited him to look closely at his pierced hands and to place his hands in his side. By doing this, Jesus proved to Thomas that he was no ghost, but that he was truly the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Immediately, Thomas’s doubt disappeared. He did not even need to touch Jesus. He immediately cried out, “My Lord and my God!” In saying this, Thomas expressed more faith in Christ’s divinity than had anyone before him, for this is the first time in Scripture that anyone called Jesus “God.” Mere men do not rise from the dead in this way. From now on, Thomas and the other disciples knew that Jesus could only be properly addressed in the language of adoring worship.

Then Jesus pronounced a blessing on all who would believe after Jesus ascended into heaven. Not everyone who had seen the miraculous works of Jesus had believed in him. The disciples, including Thomas, believed because they saw. But as Jesus said, “blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” For this is what faith is, to receive things not seen. As St Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1). St. John Chrysostom, preaching 1600 years ago, spoke these words, which are as true today as they were then: “When therefore anyone in the present day [should] say, ‘I would that I had lived in those times, and had seen Christ working miracles,’ let them reflect that ‘Blessed are they who have not see, and have yet believe.’” Great is the reward of the apostles and those who witnessed Jesus’ works and believed; greater still is the reward of those who have not seen and yet believe.

Finally, let us examine the life and ministry of St. Thomas after the Day of Pentecost. Church tradition tells us that he traveled east to preach the gospel to the Parthians and the people who lived in modern-day India. He preached the gospel in the region of Mylapur, near modern-day Madras. He succeeded in converting the king of that area, a man named Gundaphoras, to Christianity. He then continued southward, winning converts as far south as the island that is today called Sri Lanka. Later, he returned to the mainland, and there he ran afoul of many of the local residents and was executed by being pierced by a spear. Although he was not successful in winning the whole nation to Christ, his influence is still felt to this day. In India there is a both a mountain and an ancient church named after Thomas. To this day, a great number of Indian Christian men bear the name of Thomas.

As we reflect upon the life and ministry of St. Thomas, then, let us, like him, not allow the doubts we have to hinder our relationship with Christ and prevent us from obtaining eternal life. Like Thomas, let us be faithful in living and proclaiming the Christian faith, even surrendering our life, if God so wills. And like Thomas, let us continually glorify the risen Christ, saying with him, “My Lord and my God!”

[1] Fr. Anthony Coniaris, This is My Beloved Son; Listen to Him (Minneapolis, Light and Life, 1988), 78.


Clint said...

Christ is Risen!

How did everything go today? I pray well...

Fr. James Early said...

Indeed He is risen! Great! Thanks for asking!