|"The Incredulity of Thomas", by Carravaggio (c. 1603)|
On the Incredulity of Thomas:
or, How Doubting is not the Absence of Faith but it's Confirmation
Ah, Thomas...the one day you missed the gathering of the company of disciples was the one day none of us would have imagined missing! It was that day that the news was too good to be believed, too good to be true. All that the Master had spoken of in the days leading up to his death on the Roman cross at the hands of the Empire had been fulfilled, according to reports of the women returning from the (empty) tomb. Peter and John had seen the linen shroud cast aside. Rumors and gossip were beginning to flow like the crowds through the city gates who were the late arrivals for the Feast of the Passover. Something remarkable had happened! What was to be believed? Would you, so soon after such an awful loss, be willing to entrust hope so soon to hearsay?
That is what it was, for Thomas: hearsay. At the first appearance, in the Upper Room and behind the locked door on that very first day of the new age of the Resurrection...he was absent. He missed the meeting. He was elsewhere...and this is so very important for us, really. In some ways it rises to parity with the very first encounters with the risen Christ.
Why? Because Thomas is us. We are the ones who must hear reports of the good news in those faithful second- and third-hand accounts. He is the patron of our being at the least once-removed from bearing primary witness to the victory of our God. That is tough on him, but by it being so he lifts a portion of the burden we all bear as we strive to bear faithful witness to the core story of our faith. God's love overcomes all, in that God became one of us in flesh; and that when the flesh died, even that could not overcome God's love and desire for us. Death was overturned, and the reality of our life in Christ means a summons to embrace new life, and the struggle for justice that hope entails in every age.
A week after the Resurrection, the disciples are again in the Upper Room and this time Thomas is with them. When they had told him the good news, he had held back his joy. He would not believe until he could see the marks of the nails and the wound in the Lord's side. He would not embrace this new reality until he could put his hands in it, his fingers in the open spaces left by nails and the Roman pike. He could not, yet...and yet....
Carravaggio depicts the moment we mark in this week's Gospel, almost. In fact, most depictions of Thomas' encounter with a risen Jesus show him pushing his fingers into the wounds. Odd that? Yes...because he never did poke the Savior!
He never did wind up poking the Lord's wounds. He never did demand to touch after seeing and before believing. Jesus calls his name as he arrives in the assembly, and Thomas responds with, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus blesses him and by extension, us. All who have not seen and yet believe will be in Thomas' company. That is, the rest of us. This is our opportunity to catch up to the rest who had been there and seen what was to be seen, who had experienced what was there (and then) to experience.
By Thomas' reticence, and his eventual confession, we are given a place to stand with the disciples in that Upper Room. The door is no longer locked. It is instead open to all...
...Just because Thomas saw and believed. He didn't need to poke, to know.