2011 - Vol. 50.
Doubting Thomas, by Caravaggio,1602-03
Meets the Risen Christ
By Jeanne Kun
Lord and my God!”
one burning utterance, Thomas gathered up all of the doubts of a depressed
humanity to have them healed by the full implications of the exclamation,
“My Lord and my God.”
Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ
knew with a certainty that Jesus was dead. All of Jerusalem knew that the
rabbi from Galilee had been crucified and hastily buried. How then, he
reasoned logically, could he possibly give any credence to the other disciples’
report that Jesus had returned to life and appeared to them (John 20:19-20,
24-25; see also Luke 24:36-43)? Though Thomas was a brave man, one who
had been ready to accompany Jesus into danger when the Pharisees were hunting
him (John 11:8, 16), he was also a realist who moved only when he was sure
of the way to go (14:5). He was a man who would only believe what he could
see with his own eyes, who wanted to handle the evidence with his own hands
before he would be convinced of anything and commit himself to it wholeheartedly.
Thus, it’s become common in colloquial speech to refer to a skeptic as
a “Doubting Thomas.”
stringent conditions for belief—“Unless I see in [Jesus’] hands the print
of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my
hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Given these strong
terms, we might think him callous and faithless. Yet Jesus had first shown
his wounded hands and feet to the other disciples as proof of his identity
and to calm their fear: “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings
arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle
me and see: for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have”
(Luke 24:38-39). Absent on that occasion, Thomas had heard his friends’
report of it (John 20:24). Finding it hard to believe that Jesus was indeed
alive, he demanded the same assurance the others had been offered.
saw Jesus with his own eyes, his response was total surrender and belief.
He was convinced and overwhelmed, perhaps not so much by the proof he saw
in Jesus’ wounded hands and side as by the love and understanding that
Jesus had for him. This risen Lord had already known Thomas’ thoughts and
unhesitatingly offered the doubter his wounded side. A striking description
of this encounter is given by Ronald Brownrigg in Who’s Who in the Bible:
that moment Thomas must have seen both the body on the cross, hanging by
hands and feet, the side opened by the soldier’s spear, and his living
friend and master. As these two figures fused together, so Thomas leapt
the gap between loyalty to a friend and adoring faith in God himself. His
ponderous pessimism and lonely doubts disappeared, and he identified his
friend as both “My Lord and my God!”
—“My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)—is the Greek translation used for Yahweh
‘Elôhîm, the Hebrew term for the God of Israel. In Thomas’
mouth, it’s also a complete acknowledgment of Christ’s nature and one of
the most definitive assertions of faith recorded in the gospels. With this
response, Thomas left no room for doubt of Jesus’ identity. Since he realized
that Jesus had read his heart and known of his bold demand, his reply was
not just a profession of faith but an act of adoration and an expression
of deep sorrow at his own brashness and unbelief.
note that the Gospel of John originally ended with the account of Thomas’
encounter with the risen Lord and his proclamation of faith. (Chapter 21,
considered by most scholars to be a later addition to John’s Gospel, has
been fully accepted in the canon of Scripture since the earliest days of
the church even though it may not have been written by John himself.) Through
Thomas’ proclamation of faith, John was affirming Jesus’ resurrection for
his readers and establishing it as a fact. The evangelist concluded his
work with the statement that he had written his Gospel so that his readers
would come to the same belief in the Messiah as Thomas did and have life
in Jesus’ name (John 20:31).
Just as Jesus
was gracious to Thomas, he is gracious to us. Thomas’ doubts serve to confirm
our own faith in the risen Lord, noted St. Gregory the Great in his Homilies
on the Gospels, and his testimony strengthens our belief:
you really believe that it was by chance that this chosen disciple was
absent, then came and heard, heard and doubted, doubted and touched, touched
and believed? It was not by chance but in God’s providence. In a marvelous
way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the
wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief
of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples.
As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside
and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ’s
wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.
gave Thomas the assurance that he had sought by being physically present
to the doubter and showing his wounds to him. But he especially commended
those whose belief was gained through faith rather than sight: “Blessed
are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). As St. Gregory
is the proof of what cannot be seen. What is seen gives knowledge, not
faith. When Thomas saw and touched, why was he told: You have believed
because you have seen me? Because what he saw and what he believed
were different things. God cannot be seen by mortal man. Thomas saw a human
being, whom he acknowledged to be God, and said: My Lord and my God.
Seeing, he believed; looking at one who was true man, he cried out that
this was God, the God he could not see.
Peter, who was
probably present at this scene, later encouraged Christians who had become
believers with words similar to those Jesus had spoken to Thomas: “Without
having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe
in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of
your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Blessed
are we, too, when we believe without seeing!
is reason for great joy: Blessed are those who have not seen and have
believed. There is here a particular reference to ourselves; we hold
in our hearts one we have not seen in the flesh. We are included in these
words. . . .
body “possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space
and time but able to be present how and when he wills” (Catechism of
the Catholic Church, 645). With this body that had been tortured, crucified,
and raised from the dead, he was able to pass through locked doors (John
20:19) and eat fish (Luke 24:42-43). Yet Jesus’ glorified body retained
its wound marks as a sign of the high price paid for our redemption.
are still visible as Jesus, the lamb slain for us, stands glorified before
the Father (Revelation 5:6). Reflecting on the wounds of Christ, St. Ambrose
chose to bring to heaven those wounds he bore for us, he refused to remove
them, so that he might show God the Father the price of our freedom. The
Father places him in this state at his right hand, embracing the trophy
of our salvation: such are the witnesses the crown of his scars has shown
us that Thomas’ love for his crucified and risen Lord later led him to
carry the good news to India, where he died a martyr’s death by the spear.
Jeanne Kun is President
Association and a senior woman leader in the Word
of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
from My Lord and My God! A Scriptural Journey with the Followers of
Jesus by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, © 2004). Used
book can be ordered online at www.wau.org.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being
shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood
among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this,
he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when
they saw the Lord.
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when
Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails,
and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his
side, I will not believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was
with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and
said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger
here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side;
do not be faithless, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and
my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen
me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
also John 11:5-16
1. What do
Jesus’ wounds indicate to you about his risen body? Describe some of the
other properties of Jesus’ body after the resurrection. Why do you think
the evangelists emphasized these qualities so much?
2. Do you think
Thomas’ request was unreasonable? Why or why not? In what tone of voice
or with what attitude do you imagine he said it? Bewildered? Challenging?
Tentative and searching? Demanding?
the steps that Thomas took from unbelief to belief. What does this progression
suggest to you about growing in faith?
4. What insights
into the connection between faith and the fellowship and support of believers
does this story give you?
5. Does faith
depend on sight? If not, what is the basis of faith? Explain Jesus’ statement,
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).
6. Can you
think of others in the gospels who asked for “proof” before they could
or would believe in God’s word and his ability to fulfill it? Of some people
who didn’t need any proof to convince them?
Living the Word
yourself in Thomas’ place. Would you have believed the other disciples’
report? How do you think you would have responded to seeing the risen Lord?
2. What kind
of demands have you, like Thomas, put on God to prove himself to you or
to assure you of his love? Why?
3. Do you find
it challenging to believe in God because you can’t see him? Write a short
prayer asking God to reveal himself to you more clearly (perhaps through
Scripture, through other people, in nature) and to strengthen your faith.
4. How do you
deal with doubts to your faith? Do you ignore them or try to resolve them?
Can you recall a person whose faith was a strong support to you when your
own faith was weak?
5. The other
apostles sought to convince Thomas that Jesus had risen and appeared to
them. When has your faith in the risen Lord impelled you to share the gospel
with others? What experiences have you had of helping bring another person
to faith in Jesus?
6. What practical
steps can you take to nurture and safeguard your faith?
Thomas: A Portrait
of a Believing Heart
was not the only one who was a doubter. Jesus had encountered many who
refused to believe in him. Their hearts hardened against him, they failed
to recognize that he had been sent to them from God to bring salvation
Pharisees and Sadducees tested Jesus, demanding to see a sign from him
(Matthew 16:1-4). Before healing the boy, Jesus told the official whose
son was near death, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe”
(John 4:48). To the crowds who wondered that Jesus called himself the bread
of life, he said, “You have seen me and yet do not believe” (6:36). At
Jesus’ crucifixion, the chief priests and scribes mocked him, saying, “Let
the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may
see and believe” (Mark 15:32).
wanted proof before he would believe that Jesus had returned to life. But
when he encountered the risen Lord, his eyes saw more than a body that
gave evidence of both its wounds and its glorification—Thomas saw with
his heart and recognized in Jesus his Lord and Savior. His reverent and
joyful exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” is a profound profession of faith.
had doubted, but once he believed, he was wholehearted about his faith.
Tradition knows him as the apostle to India, where he zealously spread
the gospel and gave witness—even by martyrdom—to the risen Christ.
and prayerfully reflect on these additional Scripture passages that
illustrate the importance and outcome of having faith-filled and believing
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he
who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never
thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I
will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will,
but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me,
that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up
at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who
sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise
him up at the last day.” (John 6:35-40)
Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection
and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in
me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And he who sees me sees
him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes
in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:44-46)
[Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, he
who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works
than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)
If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be
saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses
with his lips and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes
in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and
Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who
call upon him. For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will
be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose
again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen
asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)