3 July 2009. Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle
Ephesians 2, 19-22; Psalm 117; John 20, 24-29
It is common sense that in order to understand another, we have to put our feet in their shoes. This I try on the feast of St. Thomas the apostle. We hear a lot about him; often negatively because he doubted. How could an apostle question the news that Jesus resurrected? But imagine: after the passing away of a family member, would you believe a declaration that he or she has resurrected and appeared flesh and bone? For a believer, a spiritual resurrection, yes. But flesh and bone? I guess not. We would even think that the bearer of the news is a wacko. To me, it is natural for someone like Thomas to be skeptical about it.
But there are many things about our faith stories that are unbelievable. We are gripped by a feeling of “awe and wonder” or of bewilderment. And in a world that is highly empirical, anything that is not logical is absurd. However, because we are rational, we cannot help it: we naturally probe into the mysteries we encounter in our life. An example is seeing the sound barrier.
Thus, we doubt in this sense: we ask questions, we look for answers. Louis Monden SJ said that “faith is not an uncritical acceptance of a set of abstract truths; rather it is the acknowledgement of God’s calling, not merely on the basis of human reasoning, but on the strength of this Divine vocation itself.”* Fr. Monden says that when we are in the state of bewilderment, we either 1) risk the leap of faith and seek from God a new understanding and insight or 2) we turn to ourselves and ask for proof and assurances. The open-minded person embarks on a quest for insights; and thus gains a faith that is strong and alive. On the other hand, the person who has a closed mind seeks insight because they already have their own ideas before anyone else and before they accept. They consider faith a problem and is often distrustful of it.
Thomas to me took attitude #1. He does not intend to distrust everything about Jesus whom He loved. He wanted to be with Him, even before Jesus’ death. He seeks understanding in the middle of his confusion and frustration. Who among us didn’t ask the question in the midst of our tragedies: If there’s God, why did He allow this to happen to me and my family? Thomas may have asked himself like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “He was showing much promise, and then He died. All our hopes have been crushed! Why?” Job, one of the great believers in Scripture, asked that question too. People who lost a family member from a debilitating or a terminal illness or a freak accident have asked the same questions. Some are even still struggling with an answer.
When Jesus allows Thomas to gain that understanding by letting him put his fingers in His wound, Thomas gains a new insight into the very person of Jesus. He made the greatest confession of faith, “My Lord and My God!” That Jesus is Lord. That Jesus is indeed God.
If we look closely at how Jesus brought Thomas to this recognition of His person, His way is simple: Jesus begins from where Thomas is. This is consistent with His style. His parables used images that is too familiar to His people. For example, for a pastoral country, the shepherd and the sheep is clear to the imagination of the common people. To those whose staple diet is bread and the wine, to use images of the wheat and the vine help people understand divine truths. If Thomas --- or any of the disciples for that matter --- needed to touch and put his fingers into His wounds (who among us wouldn’t), then Jesus would do it. If only this would be the way to bring people to faith. And indeed, He does! He does not belittle the “state” or “level of understanding” we are in. He does not make us feel “ignorant” even, in reality, we are. In the painting, “The Incredulity of St. Thomas”, Caravaggio depicted Jesus holding Thomas’ right arm, leading his finger to His wound.
Think of the image of the first reading: when we embark on a journey to find answers to our questions, we are like “strangers and sojourners”. But when we find the answers or at least arrive at an insight, we find the dwelling place of God. Hopefully, while we browse through sources of knowledge, we begin to be enlightened about our world and our life. As we gain knowledge and reflect on our experiences, we would gain wisdom.
Today, as we also hear mass to show our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let me add. When we question within the faith, we are led to a greater understanding of Christianity. And because we understand that our faith is reasonable, we become convinced of its authenticity and truth. Our hearts become passionate about it that we burn in the love of Jesus. And when it burns, we hope that it could also enkindle other fires. Our faith then becomes stronger, meaningful, and much much more alive.
*On “Questioning Within” Faith edited from Toward a Theology of Christian Faith, ed. Christopher Mooney (Kennedy, 1968)