Two weeks ago for my Easter Sunday column, I wrote about Mary Magdalene, that great heroine of the Christian tradition who has been so terribly misunderstood through the ages. Today I would like to look at the apostle Thomas, another resurrection witness and one of Jesus' friends (and certainly one of Mary Magdalene's as well) who is still given a bad rap for his honesty and sincerity.
"Doubting Thomas" is a term that is used to describe someone who refuses to believe something without direct, personal evidence; a skeptic. My name is Thomas, and I can relate to my namesake's false labeling - since I, too, like to ask questions that are often misconstrued as signs of doubt or disrespect!
Little is recorded of St. Thomas the Apostle, nevertheless thanks to John's gospel, his personality is clearer to us than that of some others of the twelve. His name occurs in all the gospel lists of the apostles, but in John he plays a unique role. Thomas is called "Didymus," the Greek form of an Aramaic name meaning "twin."
When Jesus announced his intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, Thomas said to his fellow disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with him." It was Thomas who, during the discourse before the Last Supper, raised an objection: "Lord, we do not know where you are going; and how can we know the way?" But more especially, Thomas is remembered for his incredulity when the other apostles announced Christ's resurrection to him: "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
But eight days later, Thomas made his act of faith, drawing down the rebuke of Jesus - "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
Thomas the Apostle is one of the greatest and most honest lovers of Jesus, not the eternal skeptic, nor the bullish, stubborn personality that Christian tradition has often painted. This young apostle stood before the cross, not comprehending the horrors of what had happened. All his dreams and hopes were hanging on that cross.
What do people do when something to which they have totally committed ourselves is destroyed before their very eyes? What do they do when someone to whom they have given total loyalty is suddenly crushed by powerful and faceless institutions? Such were the questions of most of the disciples, including Thomas, who had supported and followed Jesus for the better part of three years.
St. Gregory the Great said of Thomas: "If, by touching the wounds on the body of his master, Thomas is able to help us overcome the wounds of disbelief, then the doubting of Thomas will have been more use to us than the faith of all the other apostles." Centuries after Thomas, we remain grateful for the honesty and humanity of his struggle.
Who was Thomas' other half, his twin? Maybe we can see his twin by looking into the mirror. Thomas' other half is anyone who has struggled with the pain of unbelief, doubt and despair and has allowed the presence of the Risen One to make a difference.