But [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
As much as I would like to think my spirit apostle is the brash, loud, courageous St. Peter, “doubting” St. Thomas is my spirit apostle. Out of all of the apostles, Thomas strikes me as the most careful, the most reserved, the one needing the most reassurance. As much as I’d like to think I’d faithfully follow Christ without much to go on like St. Peter, I know myself. It’s quite humbling to quantify how much holy reassurance I require to do most anything. If people, even my closest friends or family members, told me I needed to believe something that Christ revealed to them, I would undoubtedly answer that I would need to experience it myself.
Like St. Thomas, I have a need for proof.
Thomas is only heard speaking in the Gospel of John. He is obviously faithful, first saying that the apostles should follow Christ back to Judea, even if they are stoned (John 11:16). He’s clearly committed to Christ if he’s willing to follow Him to death, but Thomas’s doubts and fears become apparent as Jesus tells his beloved friends He’s leaving.
At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his beloved Twelve He is leaving but not to be troubled. He assures them, “Where [I] am going you know the way” (John 14:4) Thomas asks,“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).
I really appreciate Thomas here. He’s quite frank. “Jesus, I don’t know where you’re going, even though it sounds like I should. How can I know where to go?” Also, he’s a man asking for directions, spiritual directions at that. Only a truly humble man would ask for directions, and only a humble man truly seeking holiness would ask for spiritual directions.
Jesus answers him and to all of us,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
The way, the truth, and the life. Calling Himself the truth, Jesus promises that He has never lied, that He will never lie, that He is not lying when He says He will come back. He promises He will never manipulate him, never trick him, never ask him to do something that is not essential in some manner for his ultimate good, his salvation.
How can he ask for proof after a sweeping statement like that? After his close friends and fellow apostles reveal they have seen the Lord? How can St. Thomas doubt?
Simple. He’s wise and understands how risk works. An wise poker player never goes all in without believing his hand is the strongest out of everyone else’s hands. An wise surgeon never asks patients to let her operate without believing they has a chance to live through the operation. Any wise person with intimate experience of risk knows any risk takes faith, but risk done in wisdom also takes knowledge.
A poker player can risk it all without knowing his hand. If he wins we call him lucky, and if he loses we call him an idiot. A surgeon can risk patients’ lives without knowing how to operate. If she succeeds we call her lucky, and if she fails we call her an idiot (and probably file a malpractice lawsuit).
St. Thomas wisely knew the risk of continuing to follow Christ after the Crucifixion. He walked along with Christ for three years. He saw how people threw stones, how people denied Him, how people left as soon as they were asked to believe outside their comfort zone. In the last week, Thomas had seen how the very people Jesus desperately wanted to save put Him to a horrible, bloody death, how one of the very people who walked with Him and supposedly believed in Him betrayed Him, how even the leader among them abandoned Him and denied knowing Him.
St. Thomas intimately knew risks of belief, the risks of faith, the risks of discipleship. St. Thomas experienced the sufferings of the cross. Thomas knew his beloved Jesus died. Thomas knew the fear of death from revealing his love and association with Christ. Thomas knew how hardship scattered the apostles, and he knows if he continues to believe even harder trials lie ahead. How could he not want some proof before taking such an incredible risk?
Asking for proof is not uncommon in the Gospels, let alone the whole Bible. Uncertain people on the brink of true faith are always asking for signs, for proof, for some assurance that this prophet, this Savior is worth the risk of belief. Just in the beginning of the Gospel of John, the Jews are asking Jesus for a sign that He caused havoc in the temple for a holy purpose (John 2:18). Crowds are constantly asking Jesus for a sign, but unlike St. Thomas, many of them walk away after receiving the sign they ask for.
St. Thomas, however, chooses to take the risk of current hardship, future trial, and possible death to believe, trust, and hope in Christ. He may have his doubts, but two critical things separate Thomas from the many others who came for a sign and left disappointed.
1 – Thomas has faithful friends.
Though Thomas is doubting, anxious, and afraid, his friends are have faith. Sure, they were just cowering in the upper room just a few verses ago, but they understand his doubts, anxieties, and fears. They were in that same place themselves, asked the same questions. Christ met them in that place, physically and spiritually. Did they know without a single doubt that He was going to come back? No. However, they knew Christ came. They knew Christ was risen. They knew Christ had kept all His promises. They knew they were still risking a lot to be followers of Christ, but they also knew Christ. When our faith fails and Christ seems far away, the faith of our friends and loved ones can keep us going. Thomas may never have gone to the upper room if he had a different group of friends.
2 – Thomas shows up.
Even when every person you love and respect tells you to do or not do something, we are left with a choice. As Thomas heard all his friends celebrate Christ appearing to them and plan to meet again in the upper room, he had to chose to go. And in choosing to show up, Thomas had to act in faith to go there. Sometimes in our spiritual journeys, we have to make a choice, letting go of a present comfort for a better future, selecting a present difficulty for a better future. Even when we ignore that choice, cling to that comfort, avoid that difficulty, it remains. Thomas would have been plagued with holy regrets about not going (though surely our Lord would have met him in some other way).
Thomas goes to the upper room, probably plagued with doubts, anxieties, and fears.
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.”
That place, physically and spiritually, is precisely where Jesus meets him. Our doubts, our anxieties, our fears is exactly where Christ meets us. Our God is One of peace. Jesus quells the doubts, anxieties, and fears of Thomas. Even more, He offers the proof, the assurance, the divine confidence his heart, mind, and spirit requires.
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!”
“My Lord and my God!” In this concise statement, Thomas humbly acknowledges his weakness and how he doubted, how he gave into anxiety, how he quivered in fear. At the same time, Thomas is also confidently affirming his belief, trust, and hope in Christ.
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
I always used to think Jesus was subtly telling Thomas he was somehow less holy for needing proof, but the more I pray and reflect on Jesus’s response, I have come to realize how incredibly tender they are. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” is comfort for future generations. “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?” is a present question, a present comfort for Thomas.
Christ is asking Thomas, faithful Thomas whom He loves dearly, “Have I shown you enough of Myself for you to believe? I am here, desperately wanting you to believe in Me. I have nothing but Myself to give you. Do you believe in Me yet? How else can I prove My affections for you?”
St. Thomas believes. He is present when Jesus appears to the apostles fishing on Lake Tiberius. He is present at Pentecost. He is said to have traveled all the way to India, spreading the Gospel. He even gives his life for Christ, becoming martyr for his belief in Him.
As Pope Benedict XVI said:
“The apostle Thomas’s case is important to us for at least three reasons: first, because it comforts us in our insecurity; second, because it shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty; and lastly, because the words that Jesus addressed to him remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to persevere, despite the difficulty, along our journey of adherence to him.”
– Pope Benedict XVI, speech available here
So, too, in prayer as of late, Christ is asking me similar questions as He asked Thomas. “Why are you running away? Have I not shown enough of Myself for you to believe? I am here, desperately wanting you to believe in Me, trust in Me, hope in Me. I have nothing but Myself to give you, and I want only good things for you. Do you believe in Me yet? How else can I prove My affections for you?”
The Lord has proven Himself to me. Though I’m not as privileged as the apostles to have seen the risen Christ, seen the marks of the Cross, put my fingers in his hands and side, and experienced Christ in the flesh, the Lord has more than proven Himself to me.
Yet I doubt. Yet I fear. Yet I ask for proof.
And the Lord tenderly reminds me of how He has kept His promises, how He has kept me safe at His side, how He remains with me, how He will never abandon me, how He is not asking anything of me that will not be for my good, for my ultimate salvation.
Yet I doubt. Yet I fear. Yet I ask for proof.
And then circumstances too perfect to be anything but divine providence take place before my eyes, repeatedly, reinforcing my faith in my darkest moments of fear and doubt.
Yet I doubt. Yet I fear. Yet I ask for proof.
And Jesus most tenderly asks me to patiently wait on Him and trust in Him.
While I have nothing visible, nothing solid, nothing substantial of this earth to go on and no guarantee, I have proof from Christ. I have the assurance that this Man, this Savior, this Jesus is worth the risk of belief. Though I say with much more uncertainty than St. Thomas, “My Lord and My God,” I choose belief in Christ. I choose trust in Christ. I choose hope in Christ.
It’s my turn to believe.
(Again, Pope Benedict XVI’s full speech can be found here. In perfect divine providence, I stumbled on this speech just as I was doubting, fearful, and asking for proof.)