Sunday, April 24, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 20:19-31

Today's Gospel gives us the famous passage about 'doubting Thomas'. We have all heard the saying "don't be a doubting Thomas." While usually well-intentioned, I think this saying can be misunderstood, by both those inside and outside the Christian faith. 

When someone says "don't be a doubting Thomas," I suspect they mean to not have a skeptical or cynical attitude toward the elements of the Christian faith. But this saying is commonly misunderstood to mean "just believe no matter what." Of course, the modern skeptic has a field day with this, taking it that the Christian message is one that should be believed contrary to all reason, evidence, and clear thinking.  The 'doubting Thomas' saying is also interpreted as an impugnation of the faith of a person who sometimes (or often) struggles with doubt. 

If we are honest, we all struggle with doubts about things. Perhaps even certain aspects of Christianity. We pray and the answer from God is 'no' when we desperately want it to be 'yes'. We face withering criticism from all sides, challenging the rationality of our beliefs. Doubt is a normal part of life. In the progress of our growth in holiness, we still face crises of faith and may wonder if God is there after all. 

Many times doubt arises out of emotions, frustration, or confusion. We tend to steer off the path of truth often and start to see things only from our own perspectives. Sin can blur our vision. Evil and suffering bruise our souls to the extent that we keel over as if kicked in the stomach. 

We do not know much about Thomas' psychological state at the time he expresses his desire to touch the wounds of Jesus. I think it is safe to say he was not a skeptic in the modern sense of the term. But he was struggling. Thomas had seen Jesus perform many signs and wonders. I also think it is fair to say Thomas did not repudiate his belief in God from the time of the crucifixion until the moment he saw Jesus alive again. Still, there was something inside of Thomas that perhaps did not believe Jesus rose bodily from the grave. Thomas had a hurdle to get over. Hence the desire for physical contact with Jesus. Biblical scholars have established that Second Temple Judaism did not have a real conception of resurrection other than the last day(s) when God would bring everything to final and full consummation and judgment. So perhaps Thomas thought the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus he heard about were simply an apparition or a ghost. Thus, he maintains that he will not believe Jesus rose bodily unless he can see and touch. Thomas' doubt mirrors our own in many ways.

Out of an abundance of grace, Jesus offers Thomas the opportunity to touch His wounds. Thomas's response is one of the great doxologies of the New Testament "my Lord and my God! (I like the word-for-word in the original Greek "the Lord of me and the God of me!"). Thomas cannot but acknowledge Jesus as Lord of creation after experiencing the bodily resurrection. None by God can do (and be) what Jesus was right there, staring Thomas in the face. 

Yet what we have today is, I believe, much more than what Thomas had to on in terms of the foundation of faith. Yes, Thomas walked with the Lord Jesus and saw the many signs. But we also have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the ever-present indwelling of God Himself. We have the testimony of the Apostles, the inspired writings of the New Testament. We have the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church. We have a united fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ from all across the world and across time. We have the great communion of the saints. We can be strengthened by the testimony of the martyrs and missionaries. We need to look no further than experiencing the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is in these and so many other ways that we can happily acknowledge the reality of what Jesus says to Thomas "blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." This is not a blissful ignorance, but a blissful realization of the multi-faceted ways in which the presence of God in Christ permeates our existence. God gives us these graces out of the abundance of His love. May we receive them with gladness. 

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