Revelation 1:9–11a, 12–13, 17–19
Poor Thomas! He comes in for bad press by most of us. We have labeled him “doubting Thomas”. That, of course, is our interpretation. It is not a general characteristic of him at all. In an earlier chapter, he calls on his fellow disciples to go up to Jerusalem to die with Jesus. In the narrative of the gospel, Thomas is the one who ends up making the clearest affirmation of faith in Jesus: “My Lord and my God.” In this he is not unlike Peter in the other gospels.
I wonder if Thomas is no different than most of us. All he wants to do is see and touch, touch above all. After all, if someone told us, “We have seen the Lord” and left it at that, we might be a bit skeptical too. Thomas wants to touch but what it is it he wants to touch? He wants to touch the wounds of the Lord. He wants to touch the crucified one; he wants to be sure that what his fellow disciples have “seen” is truly the man who suffered, was wounded and was put to death. He does not want and does not need a ghost, a figment of their imagination and hopes and dreams. Thomas’ skepticism and doubt is not bad. It makes all the difference in the world. Is it the same Jesus who was led away with a cross and whose side and hands were pierced in for our sakes that is now glorified? Can a wounded and pierced person be victorious over suffering and death? Can he be wounded and yet free from its pain? How are wounds glorious?
Thomas’ issue is not just about the certainty of the glory of the one who was lifted up on the cross. Perhaps a bigger issue or a concurrent issue is that of the word of his fellow disciples. He is not satisfied with their word about their experience. He wants his own personal experience as well. He wants no intermediary between the risen Lord and himself. The community of the disciples is not sufficient for him. He must know for himself. If there is doubt in Thomas, the doubt is in the word of the community. He is not ready to trust the word of those who had the experience of the Teacher.
Thomas is indicative of the second generation of Christians. They did not have any personal, bodily experience of Jesus. They came to know him solely through the word of those who did experience him in the flesh. They have the word of the first generation: their word, their memories, their stories and the signs that the Teacher left behind. The second generation faith does not come from having been there and seen what happened; they came to believe through the word of the initial disciples. The second generation Christian will not see Jesus. Are we not like the second generation Christian? We have never been there with Jesus, seen him, touched him, heard his wonderful words.
Jesus offers us his final beatitude today: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” This beatitude is not to the first generation but to those of us who are at the receiving end of the word of other believers. We believe because others believe.
In the initial scene of today’s gospel, it is the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, the day of creation. On that first day, Jesus creates the new community that will now carry him and his word out to the world, physically and in time. I say Jesus creates because it is clear he breathes on them the Holy Spirit. He breathes on them as the spirit first blew over waters of chaos. Here the breath is on a fearful community sealed off in defense from the outside world. Or it is like the breath of the prophet Ezekiel over the dead bones of Israel which gives them new life and makes them stand up again. The disciples are given new life from the Master’s breath of Spirit. The locked doors and walls of the upper room cannot hinder the power of the Spirit.
This spirit-made community is then endowed with two gifts, the first of which is peace. Shalom means a sense of harmony and right order among them, a harmony that comes not from within but from the power of the cross and the gift of the Father. This is a community of shalom living in a world of disharmony and fear. But this community knows its Teacher and knows it is loved by the Father. But now the community must conform itself to the relationship between Jesus and the Father. It must be sent; it is apostolic. It goes not with its own message and power but with that of the Father. The community’s purpose is to reveal to the world that God’s word and Spirit are still creating and calling together. The community Jesus breathes into existence is one that breathes peace into a world of brokenness and fear. Its greeting must always be: “Peace be with you!”
The second gift the Risen Lord gives is empowerment to bring God’s forgiveness into people’s lives. The community lives so that God’s mercy is always offered. When the community is preaching and living forgiveness, then the new world of resurrection can be touched and felt. Forgiveness is about bringing people and broken relationships together. When broken relationships are reconciled and healed, that can be seen and touched. It can be relationships on the big screen as when conflicting parties within a nation come together, speak the truth about their hurts and are reconciled. It can be as close as healing a relationship between a parent and a child after many years of misunderstanding and rejection.
Thomas so much wanted to touch: a love that was willing to become a sacrifice, a love laid down for others. But that is exactly what the risen Lord empowers his fearful disciples to be and do. We want to see and touch. These are so basic to being human. But we can touch the risen Jesus. We can touch and feel peace in our lives and in our community. We can see and touch when forgiveness is at work as a principle for human relationships. Perhaps we need to believe that when we are touched by peace and forgiveness, no matter how fragile its form, we are in reality touching the risen Lord alive and working in the world.
Thomas’ doubt is really a reminder to us to trust in the word of the community that the lord is alive and conquered death. And Thomas is a reminder to us to keep wanting to reach out and touch, touch where love has been poured out; to touch where words have brought about reconciliation, healing and peace. And Thomas is a reminder that in the end our faith is rather simple: My Lord and my God to the one who loved us to the end and by dying made all things one.
Prior, Fr. Joel Macul, OSB