I’ve been thinking about Thomas for the past two weeks since the Gospel reading was John 20:19-31. He gets such a bad reputation for doubting. He’s been branded ‘Doubting Thomas’ probably more often than he’s remembered for being an apostle.
In the evening of that first Easter, Jesus appears to the apostles. Except for Thomas. They are all given the Easter joy, the hope, the return to life. They were dead in dismay and confusion and the Risen Lord casts light back into their hearts by appearing to them, giving them his peace, and breathing the Holy Spirit on them. All the apostles are present except Thomas.
When we nonchalantly brand this apostle ‘Doubting Thomas,’ no one seems to remember that Jesus knew everything. He could do whatever he liked in His resurrected body. Why not bi-locate and appear to Thomas at the same time? Why appear to the others when Thomas alone had stepped away?
Thomas returns to find the others beaming, buzzing, elated: the Lord is Risen! And Thomas is incredulous –> I won’t believe it until I not only see him, but place my hand in his side. Seeing Jesus is not enough. Thomas must touch Christ, and even more striking, must touch His wounds.
Thomas is criticized for this, but oh how I identify with him here! How often do I demand signs and tangible answers from the Lord? Thomas walked with him, heard his words, and still needed physical affirmation of His resurrection. The testimony of his friends was not enough. He needed more.
I need more. I often cry out for more. Time and again, Jesus has provided, but time and again I demand him practically come down and smack me in the face or embrace me as the situation demands.
Can you imagine what it would have been like to be Thomas? It isn’t until eight days later that Jesus decides to appear to him. It’s easy to disparage Thomas’ doubt when we know the arc of the whole story. While the other apostles began the joy of Easter with light and free hearts that very evening, Thomas was probably sulking in the corner for that whole week with a heavy heart and confused mind.
I imagine his interior dialogue went something like this: Can Jesus really have risen from the dead? If he did, why didn’t Jesus appear to me? Why did he supposedly come when I wasn’t here? The others are so joyful. Why wasn’t I invited into that joy? Why am I sulking here in the corner while the others rejoice? I thought he loved me. Why are the others chosen, and I am not?
Jesus could have come at any time. But He didn’t. He waited eight days, and this is no accident or oversight. He made Thomas wait eight days. That eight days must have felt a lifetime to Thomas. The story rolls along so quickly in John’s Gospel that we don’t think about the time in between. I never thought about the eight whole days between his first appearance and the second until this Easter season. When I did, it’s what got me thinking about this whole thing.
Place yourself Thomas’ sandals: how long, O Lord? I cannot believe until I touch His side. Until I can physically be a part of those wounds, I cannot believe He is alive again. I want to believe, but I am prevented.
It’s easy for me to put myself in those well-worn sandals. He has made me wait while I watch others live joyfully too. He provides them opportunities that He seems to deny me, at least for the time being. I demand physical evidence that He’s got a plan for me. And time seems to stand still as I wait, wait, wait.
I identify with Thomas on so many levels. I don’t think he ought to be remember as the one who doubted. He should be remembered as the one who was made to wait. He was made to wait for Easter joy. So, what happens? Eight long days after Jesus appears to the others, He appears when Thomas is present. He invites Thomas to place his hands into those blessed wounds, those wounds made for the love of Thomas and the love of us all. What it must have been like for Thomas to place his hands in the very wounds by which he was healed! His heart must have raced with joy as he proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” God willing I make it to heaven, I want to ask Thomas what that moment was like.
Is it a coincidence that Divine Mercy Sunday is the Sunday we hear this gospel? Absolutely not. On Divine Mercy Sunday, as per the revelation to St. Faustina, we celebrate Divine Mercy, and particularly that mercy that is poured out in blood and water, in the Eucharist and in Baptism. We celebrate it eight days after Easter Sunday, the eight days that the other apostles celebrated at Thomas waited. Thomas placed his hand in the wounded side where that precious blood and water gushed out. That tangible reality that Thomas so desperately needed? He received it. We also need it and receive it in the Sacraments. Christ may not appear to us in the Resurrected body when we gather with our friends, but He makes Himself present to us when we gather as the Body of Christ for the celebration of the Sacraments. He made Thomas wait to reveal ever more His glory.
Reflecting on this the last two weeks has been fruitful for my Easter Season. I wanted to celebrate the Risen Lord and found myself failing. I so desired the joy of Easter, but I felt like I was being stiffed by Jesus on a few levels so I wallowed instead of celebrating. But the thing is, waiting can be so good for us and His glory is always revealed in time. In times of waiting, Jesus provides unique opportunities to dwell nearer Him, Our Lady, and the saints all of whom were made to wait in certain times. I have to remind myself of that when waiting feels like an oppressive burden. I invite you to ponder the mystery of waiting more deeply with me this Easter Season.
God bless you on your way, dear fellow pilgrim!
St. Thomas the Apostle, pray for us!