July 3, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
The gospel reading for today is John 20:24-29.
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Thomas wouldn’t believe unless he saw the risen Jesus himself. He was locked inside his rational mind and demanded proof, not just the eyewitness testimony of the other apostles. His exclamation when Jesus appeared, “My Lord and my God,” came unbidden, involuntarily, and unexpectedly from his heart. At least that’s what I imagine as I put myself in his sandals.
Thomas was a literalist. At the last supper Jesus told them that they knew the way to the place that he was preparing for them. Thomas responded that he didn’t know where Jesus was going, so how could he know the way. As John Shelby Spong in The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, writes of Thomas, “He does not yet see the mystical oneness between the Father and the son. He does not yet understand the interpenetration of God and human life to which Jesus is constantly referring when he says such things as ‘the Father and I are one’ or notes that the disciples are to abide in Jesus in the same way that Jesus abides in God.”
Earlier when Jesus was told his disciples that his friend Lazarus was asleep, they misunderstood and Jesus had to explain that he was dead. Jesus told them that he was returning to Bethany near Jerusalem to raise Lazarus so that they could believe. Thomas spoke up and exhorted the others to follow and die with Jesus as he was sure that was the intent of the Jewish authorities. Thomas didn’t get metaphors! He was a rationalist out of touch with the spiritual or mystical. His rational mind accepted the fact of Jesus death; it overpowered his spiritual twin preventing him from believing in Jesus’ resurrection.
Didymus means twin. I interpret this as the twin within me, the rational and the emotional. Or perhaps corporal and spiritual — in Paul’s language the flesh and the spirit. They are often in opposition with the rational, the corporal, the flesh usually dominant. Jesus’ point is that faith is not rational. Thomas didn’t come to believe because he touched Jesus’ body; he came to belief because Jesus’ love for him in his willingness to reveal his wounds reached Thomas’ heart.
I’m trying to remember the first time I made an exclamation similar to Thomas — “My Lord and my God,” the first time I truly came to believe in my heart not just my head, when Jesus entered into me. I can’t remember for sure, but it’s happened more than once as I have a tendency to imprison myself in my head. That’s not where I encounter him.
No science can prove the existence of God; my rational mind can’t be convinced of Jesus’ resurrection. Faith sprang from my longing to know the creator, to know God, to fill the hole that He created within me that only He can occupy. When those words, “My Lord and my God,” leapt from Thomas’ heart and from my own, it was our first confession of faith. I don’t think Thomas should be excoriated; I think he should be embraced because he represents the rational in all of us, the part of us that struggles to believe the unbelievable, the unproven, the irrational, the mystical, “the interpenetration of God and human life.”