Sunday, April 23, 2017

St Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed

May my words be in the name of the Holy and undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today's reading shows us the last time in the Gospels that we hear St Thomas speaking. It is the occasion for which he is most remembered, the one which earned him the sobriquet 'Doubting Thomas.' It occurs to few, I believe, to think back to the first time we hear this holy Apostle speak in the Gospels in a passage we read only a few weeks ago just before the beginning of Holy Week. I refer, of course, to the passage in St John's Gospel recording the events around our Lord's raising of Lazarus from the dead. You may recall on that occasion that Jesus' followers were anxious about his plans to go to Bethany. The Jews, they knew, had only recently attempted to stone their master. Returning to Judea so soon after would be dangerous for him; and, we may note, also for anyone with him. So they are glad when he delays going; and alarmed when he announces that he intends going after all. And, with all around him afraid, St John records his fellow-apostle speaking some remarkable words: St Thomas says 'Let us go also, that we may die with him.' He considers going to Judea to be a grave risk – but he nonetheless is willing to face death rather than abandon his master.
So he was a man of great courage. And his bravery is also revealed in the passage we heard read today – even though it is easy to miss it. Most are too caught up in St Thomas' refusal to accept what the other disciples who have seen Jesus try to tell him to consider a very important implication revealed in the fact that he was missing for the time when our Lord first revealed himself to his Apostles. He was not there. All the rest of Jesus' followers kept themselves hidden for fear of the Jews. And yet St Thomas was not there. He alone of them all does not keep himself hidden. He is not afraid to go out and about in Jerusalem among the people who seized his master, subjected him to a mockery of a trial, and then condemned to death on a cross.

We may ask ourselves why such a man, a man not only of such great courage but who also was so deeply devoted to our Lord, unafraid to face death for his sake, may have doubted that his master had Risen from the dead? But this is something I believe we must not be too hard on him for. Doubt is, after all, quite a normal thing – especially in the face of extraordinary events such as these. We may also note that the other disciples also doubted when they were first told of our Lord's Resurrection. The woman who went to the tomb on that morning told them of the Empty Tomb and how they has seen the Lord Risen and Alive. But they did not believe them. It was not until they saw the Lord for themselves that they believed. We may also consider the words of the Church Father St Gregory concerning this – that it was no accident that St Thomas was absent when our Lord first appeared, but rather it was something intended by God for our benefit. Indeed, that it was part of God's plan seems beyond dispute. Our Lord could easily have timed his appearance so that all of his Apostles were there; that he did not must have been deliberate. And he knew how St Thomas would react to the news of his first appearance; just as he knew how he would react on being present at the second.
What are the ways in which we benefit? First that our Lord allows St Thomas to touch him, proving the Resurrection was no mere spiritual event. Christ had risen indeed in bodily form; if it were not so, then St Thomas could not have touched him. Next there is St Thomas' truly wondrous declaration of faith: My Lord and my God! The Risen Lord is addressed as God by one of his disciples – and he does not reject his words or rebuke him for using them. Indeed, he confirms them by saying to St Thomas 'because you have seen me, you have believed.' The Resurrection is intended to confirm to all men that Christ is God – and St Thomas is the first one not only to recognise this but to declare what it means publicly. Finally, St Thomas' initial doubts allow our Lord to directly bless all Christians who would come after him: blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed. We should bask in those words, savour them, glory in them. Christ himself has pronounced his blessing upon our faith; God himself has proclaimed that we are blessed by our faith in him.

Because of all that I have already said, I have never liked the fact that many have given St Thomas the title 'doubting.' St Thomas through whom God himself has blessed us might be better. Or perhaps St Thomas the bravest of the Apostles. He, after all, was the one who declared he was willing to die for Christ even before he understood that he was God incarnate. And when he did understand, he lived that declaration out in its fullest sense. Like all the Apostles, save St John the beloved disciples and writer of the Gospel that bears his name, St Thomas died a martyrs death; he took the faith to India, where the Church he founded still remains and today is nearly 30 million strong. I pray that all here will be inspired by his witness, declaring for themselves daily 'My Lord and my God' in response to the Gospel witness; and thereby hearing in their hearts from now until the end of the ages our Lord's words spoken directly to them 'Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have believed.' Amen. 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Fr. Burke,

    Your words remind me how human the apostles were. They asked the questions that we still ask today.

    Thank you for creating such an informative and wonderful place to visit.

    Hasi

    ReplyDelete