ST. THOMAS THE APOSTLE
Often remembered as a simple man whose insistence upon tangible proof of the resurrection made him rather literal-minded, Thomas is not always seen as a model character. Still, when Jesus proposed a trip to Bethany to be with his friends, even after he had been banished from the Jerusalem area on threat of stoning, it was Thomas who revealed a depth of affection for Jesus—and courage. He insisted that all the disciples go, too, “that we may die with him” (John 11:16). At table with Jesus for the last supper, Thomas listened as Jesus predicted his death and resurrection, and told them he would go and prepare a place for them. Then he responded with candor and a reasonable question: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5). And after the resurrection, it was Thomas who refused easily to accept the accounts of the others. In his earthy pragmatism he held out for a personal encounter with the risen Jesus—and his persistence was amply rewarded (John 20:24-29).
Take the Bethanybusiness. Jesus had been threatened with death if he should return to the region; he had left an angry mob of dissatisfied people behind him there. Thomas is downright savvy; it would be much harder for a mob to rise up against a group of them than to ambush a solitary Jesus. Thomas’s suggestion that they go with Jesus in order that they might die with him seems as much a challenge to the others’ faith as it is a chilling prediction of their eventual martyrdom.
Thomas’s remark at the last supper comes in the midst of a very confusing and convoluted discourse between Jesus and his disciples about the events they would encounter soon afterward, in Gethsemane and beyond. Using heavily veiled references and highly symbolic language, Jesus waxes eloquent about going away, coming again, and houses of many rooms. The interjection from Thomas seems a bold challenge to obscurity, placing Thomas in a long line of those whose primary ministry has been to call us back to clear and simple truth.
Finally, there is the incredulity with which Thomas greets news of Jesus’ resurrection. Remember that Thomas was in the midst of a community in total disarray, hiding in fear and riddled with rumors made from some eyewitness accounts and the inevitable embroidery attached to them. Holding fast to his skepticism, Thomas demands what would become the cornerstone of all Christian faith—a personal experience of the resurrected Jesus. For his pains, he is rewarded. Jesus grants his request, for he has asked the right question, demanded the right thing.
Christianity is a shared, communal religion and a corporate faith, but at the heart of this faith and tradition is a personal encounter with the risen Lord. Christian faith is based not upon scriptural or traditional witness alone, important as they are. Reason also plays its part, and reason demands the personal experience of Jesus. Only after that personal meeting does Thomas declare the definitive lordship of Jesus, for it is not until that personal experience that such a claim can be made.
Thomas the pragmatist reminds us that our life as Christians and as the church has ultimately to be practical, pragmatic, practicable—all have their origin in the same root, which means literally, “do-able.” Faith is not an idea; it is do-able, because it is based on a living relationship with a living God, a relationship manifested in a living person named Jesus. Faith is shared and transmitted not as an ideal or argument, but as a living relationship with God manifested in what we are, what we say, what we do, what we practice. Call that simplicity if you will, but count it as the profundity it is, and give Thomas his due.
The Proper for the Lesser Feasts and Fasts – An imprint of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York – 2006, p. 11.