I then usually launch into the story that my parents have told me, about how I was supposed to be named after my grandfather, Juel Adrian Monson. They were going to give me the name "Monson" and call me "Muns," as my grandfather was. But as soon as I came out, both of my parents agreed that I wasn't a "Monson," I was a "Tom." My father will usually give an addendum and say that it wasn't until well after I had been born that he decided I was indeed named after Tom Kelly.
So names are strange, interesting things. For example, the Apostle Thomas (who we recently heard about in the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter) is said to be called the Twin. Why was he "the Twin?" Well, biblical scholars tend to agree that his given name was Judas, so he was called the Twin in order to distinguish him from the other Judas, son of Simon Iscariot.
But at any rate, it's actually true that the name we have today, "Thomas" is a transcription, through New Testament Greek, of the Aramaic name תאומא (te'oma), which means "twin" (and makes me think that maybe all managers of the Minnesota Twins should be named Tom or Thomas). But this particular apostle is also called "Doubting Thomas." Which is, I think, a custom that causes grief for people who may tend to act like he does in this story of Jesus' posthumous appearance. I mean, I should know; I think I'm one of them.
In the Bible story, which only happens in John's gospel, the remaining ten apostles are gathered together when Jesus appears to them. And Thomas misses it.
Now, the other apostles all fill Thomas in on what he missed, but before diving into that, I want to highlight something: Thomas' friends were all gathered together, behind a locked door, afraid and not going out to spread the word like Jesus told them to do. Now, maybe they needed groceries and Thomas drew the short straw (they were, after all, being hunted by the authorities and there wasn't a huge practical incentive to going out). But also, maybe, Thomas was out doing the work that Jesus had given him to do. Jesus had already given his followers a commission at the Last Supper. Maybe Thomas had been steeled by Jesus' death and decided that Jesus had been serious; serious enough to get killed for what he believed in.
I have to believe that Thomas was out doing something, away from the other apostles, for good reason. And I choose to believe that it was spreading the word like Jesus said. There is another story that comes from legend that Thomas was returning from a mission to India when Mary was taken into heaven (I know, I'm getting into Roman Catholic theology here; #sorrynotsorry). Thomas missed that event, too. But it was because he was out! He was getting stuff done! And I identify with that.
I also identify with Thomas when the apostles try to fill him in on what he missed. They say to him, "We have seen the Lord." And then Thomas has his famous line that gives him his epithet: "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
This is where I do my Ignatian contemplation thing and I put myself into the story. I have already said that I identify with Thomas, and this line that he gives the other apostles sounds like something I would say. If it were me, having been out doing the work that my teacher gave me, while my friends are all being paralyzed into inaction through fear, I would be angry at them, too.
Why are they so uncertain? Our friend and our teacher specifically said to do this. And he's gone now, so there is no other way that this message of salvation and forgiveness will get out. Jesus was dedicated to it. So I need to be dedicated to it too.
And then, when I come back to spend time with the friends I have left, hoping to try again to convince them that they need to do this work with me, they tell me something impossible: Jesus has been back. They've seen him. They've seen our friend who had been killed. Yeah, I know that his body went missing from the tomb, but Jesus was an upstart. He was doing something that he wasn't supposed to be doing, so it would make sense that the authorities would want to send a message to the rest of us by stealing his body. I can deal with that kind of psychological warfare. But I need somebody else to keep grounded and keep calm so I don't feel like I'm loosing it!
Thomas has been stressed out. He feels unsupported. It makes sense that he would get frustrated and be opposed to anything his friends say at a time like this. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that he did the right thing, but I can also say that I've been in a similar mindset and I've said and done similar things when I'm like that. If I condemn Thomas then I'm also condemning myself.
And so it is that I assert something else that's between the lines of this story: I think that Thomas desperately wanted to believe that Jesus wasn't in fact dead. I think he despaired that someone so close, so trusted, so confident was gone and that, if only he could come back, Jesus could continue the work that he himself had started. But if he's gone, then it's up to us to carry on the work.
That's not the end of the story, though. So we've got Thomas, who I will continue to assert wants to believe that his friend Jesus has risen from the dead. But Thomas is also quite the skeptic (having recently re-taken the Myers Briggs personality test, I think Thomas is an INTJ, like me). Despite whatever emotional desire he feels, he knows that he needs to have something to back up this completely outlandish idea that his teacher has come back from the dead. Thus the words: "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark..."
Thank God for mercy and patience with us, poor and flawed human beings that we are: Jesus decides to appear again, this time while Thomas is spending time with his friends. Jesus is aware of Thomas' deep desire to believe and so goes straight to him. Christ offers the evidence of his own body so that Thomas could let go of his skepticism. Jesus did not cast Thomas aside because of his unbelief. Jesus did not condemn Thomas to suffer. Jesus did what he had been doing all along: he showed up for the outsider, so that everyone could take part in the Kingdom of God.
Now I'm not going to get into the debate of whether or not Thomas actually put his hand into Jesus' wounds, to have proof to that extent. It's enough for me that Thomas dropped to his knees and proclaimed: "My Lord and my God!" And that was it. Jesus took Thomas as a part of the Kingdom.
I don't know what it is. Maybe people just need someone to blame. Maybe people, even church people, feel like they need to have someone they can feel better than. Maybe that's why we've ragged on Thomas for so long, calling him the Doubter, deriding him for not taking his friends at their word. But nevertheless, I admit that I identify with Thomas for the desires and longing he had for a real, meaty, viscous savior. I identify with him even though he's not my namesake. But I suppose I'm also not so different from him after all.
|John Granville Gregory's updated version of |
Caravaggio's Incredulity of St. Thomas
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What's been your opinion of Doubting Thomas? Do you think he's had a bad rap, or do you maybe think he was supposed to act a different way? Please leave your reflections in the comments below. I would love to hear what you wish to share. Otherwise, you can join with me in conversation on Facebook or Twitter! Additionally, you can subscribe to my blog by email with the subscription bar in the navigation menu on the right-hand side of this page, and/or send me a friend request/follow me to make that social connection and participate in a deeper dialogue that way. Thanks!