Believing is not seeing
We’re all familiar with this powerful story of the Doubting Thomas. Thomas was missing when the dispirited and confused disciples gathered together behind locked doors, unsure of their own safety but supporting one another, comforting one another in grief. Suddenly despite barred doors Jesus was with them. They heard that he appeared to Mary Magdalene and Peter but they were unsure what that meant. Maybe there were just imagining things. But there Jesus was showing them the gapping wounds in his hands and feet and side – blazing pledges of his undying love for them. His first words are of peace not recrimination. Jesus says nothing of their cowardly deserting of him. He offers them the gift of his peace and empowers them to pass that peace on to others.
Thomas was as confused and grief stricken as the rest of them but he wanted to be alone to sort out the confusing, devastating events of the last couple of days. He avoids the company of the other apostles and companions of Jesus. This was his big mistake. We know from experience that we need the presence and support of others when we come face to face with a personal crisis or loss. We need to hear comforting, consoling words, words that let us know others feel our pain and are with us in our time of struggle. We need a hug, an embrace to strengthen us. There is great wisdom in the Jewish custom of Shiva. For several days after the death and quick burial of a family member, friends come to the home with food. They sit with the family, often in silence. There is silence and conversation and the grieving family knows they are not alone. Thomas didn’t see his need for companionship. He wanted to face his grief on his own.
Thomas’ decision robbed him of that surprising and comforting encounter the other apostles had with the risen Christ. When Peter and the others told him about it he refused to believe their story. He demanded proof. ’Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the mark and my hand into his side I will not believe.’ Jesus gives Thomas another chance. A week later he comes again. To Thomas Jesus says, ‘Put your finger into my hand and your hand into my side and believe.’ The embarrassed, shamed Thomas could only stutter, “My Lord and my God.’
This gospel praises people like you and me, people who often wonder if God exists or cares as we face many hard realities of our lives. We can convince ourselves no one hears our prayers, no one understands our sadness, our loneliness. We feel our struggles to live lives of love and justice is going nowhere. There can be times when we wonder if all this ‘faith stuff’ is for real. Yet we hang on. We pray, ‘Lord I believe, help the little faith I have.’ We can do this because we belong to a community of faith; men and women who struggle and wonder as we do and yet believe; believe that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. We are all those good people who have not seen and still believe.