It had never occurred to me before, not until Father John asked the rhetorical question during his homily during Mass on Sunday.
“Why did Thomas stick with the disciples for a whole week, after Easter Sunday? He must have thought, ‘These guys are crazy! Believing they’ve seen the Lord? That’s just nuts!’ And yet he was with them a week later, when Christ appeared again.”
I had never thought of that before. Why did Thomas hang around?
Scripture doesn’t tell us. It is interesting to meditate on, though.
Thomas, when confronted with the news from the other ten disciples, that they had seen Jesus, wasn’t merely incredulous. He didn’t say “I’ll see it when I believe it.” He was so incredulous and so mistrustful, he made a bold-ass proclamation. He bypassed double-dog and triple-dog dares, going straight to that ultra rare ‘I quadruple-dog dare you’ territory.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (Jn 20:25)
That’s putting in all on the line.
Here’s a guy whose closest friends, to a man, told him that Jesus had come to them. Men with whom he had spent the past three years following Christ. Yet despite their friendships, he doubted their testimonies. I kinda understand why he was incredulous. They had all been mourning Jesus’ death for three days, inconsolable and despairing. Why Thomas had left the room, and where he went, is irrelevant. But during his absence, they had gone from grief to unexplainable joy. Claiming to see the Lord. To be honest, I’d be doubtful too.
You imagined it, he probably told them. No, no – He spoke to us. Breathed on us!
You are all insane with grief, he might have countered. Remember when He taught, blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be filled with joy? Well??
You are possessed by demons, Thomas may have accused. Demoniacs are not joyful!
You are drunk! Besotted with too much wine! We have no wine! We have seen the Lord!
It’s conceivable that Mary Magdalene also tried to convince him. Her testimony would have fallen on deaf ears and a hard heart.
Or maybe a wary heart. A weary heart. Thomas may have been guarding himself against the hope of all hopes, that if he allowed himself to believe, only to be proven right, that the disciples had been mistaken…fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Whatever Thomas may have said, and whatever the other disciples had told him – doesn’t seem to have mattered. As far as we know, he was as firm in his stubborn denial as they were in their extraordinary joy. Thomas could have said, ‘we just have to agree to disagree.’ But no – he made an oath, a detailed set of conditions that needed to be met, without which he would not believe.
Was there tension in the room from then on? Perhaps his pride had been wounded, that Jesus appeared to the others when he was absent. Did he separate himself from the others, perhaps spending more time out and about Jerusalem? I wonder if he felt that he didn’t belong, the odd man out, not part of the club because he couldn’t share in the others’ joy.
Which leads to that question – why did he stay? He hung out with guys he thought were delusional, or crazy, for a full week. It couldn’t have been comfortable.
I have two theories – both might be wrong. I concede that. This isn’t Church teaching – just the result of some meditation, and perhaps just a dash of inspiration. But here goes.
A part of me believes he wanted to prove the others wrong. I can picture Thomas thinking – No one comes back from the dead, the others are insane – and if I don’t prove to them that they’re wrong, they’ll live the rest of their lives professing this stupid claim that Jesus is alive and get in all sorts of trouble. Once they see I’m right, they’ll realize how foolish they had been.
That makes some sense, right? Stubborn, doubting Thomas – fits the narrative. But then, when Christ appears that second time, and speaks to Thomas – Thomas realizes that his doubts were completely unfounded, and his faith was weak. Stubbornness melts away.
But I think that narrative lacks something. Something dynamic, something…tangible. A greater part of me believes there was more to this than Thomas’ doubt and his interactions with the disciples. There was still an ember of faith glowing within his soul, faint and frail. But what was it that kept it burning?
I think Thomas went to Mary. I picture him approaching her, falling to his knees, and asking “Is it true? Is Jesus alive? Dare I believe?” He knew she would neither deceive nor mislead him.
Mary then merely nodded, smiled in the way that only a mother can, to comfort a confused and unsure child, placed her hand on his cheek, and said “Have faith, Thomas, and you will see.”
He stayed because he believed her, and her intercession strengthened his faith despite his doubts, ultimately leading him to say “My Lord and My God!”
Image in Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
(originally posted 4/12/15)
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