“Unless I will see in His hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the place of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20: 25)
Every year on the Second Sunday of Easter or the Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church presents us with the story of "The Doubting Thomas" in the Gospel of John 20: 19-31. Why this is so is not clearly stated by the Church, but perhaps it is because this is the first time, since after His Resurrection, that Jesus appeared to almost all the apostles at the same time in one place, and so the Church want her children to encounter this on the very next Sunday after the Easter Sunday. Or perhaps to offer us, her children the opportunity to learn from the weakness of Thomas in order to draw strength from his profound confession. Sometimes one wonders why we prefer to call Thomas "The Doubting One" and not "The Confessing Thomas" because as much as he doubted, he was the first to utter the most exalting and most profound confession of Jesus' Divinity.
If we take some look into ourselves we would discover some bits of Thomas in us. And we can humbly accept that we are like Thomas and are no better at times. The human mind is very susceptible to doubts and disbelief, especially at this time when there is a whole invasion of scientific discoveries and technological advancements that are overwhelming. We tend to be more prone to the scientific methods of observation, hypothesis and tests before drawing conclusions. This tendency to doubt, especially God and matters of faith, are even more buttressed by numerous incidents of natural disasters, like recent cyclone Idai that devastated Malawai, Zimbabwe and Mozambique last month; and just few days ago, Mozambique was again hit by cyclone Kenneth leaving tolls of death and enormous destructions. In the face of these and such havocs caused by agents of religion in the name of God, like the bombings of six Churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, faith and believing God are made more difficult and complicated for many. We find ourselves struggling with our fears like Thomas. The Resurrection and Appearance of Jesus to the disciples in the absence of Thomas was difficult for Thomas to take in and to believe. But do not forget that it was not easy for the others either. We read in Mark's Gospel (16: 11-13):
"When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either."
The Resurrection was difficult for the apostles because first, as the apostles on the way to Emmaus expressed: "We had hoped He was the One to redeem Israel" (Luke 24: 21). This was the idea of the Messiah they had. Therefore, if they ever thought of their Master as a Messiah, He did not prove it by dying in such ignominious way on the Cross. Secondly, the Resurrection was not a familiar phenomenon - no one ever resurrected as Christ did! So, like many of us who are finding faith and belief in God difficult in our challenging moments, the disciples of Jesus and now Thomas did not have it any easier. "Unless I will see in His hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the place of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will not believe.” How many times have said something similar? I do not think this is an expression of disbelief but I think it is an outcry of the heart that yearns for something to hold on to. It is the scream from that broken heart that shouts aloud: "I believe Lord, help my unbelief" (Mark 9: 24). Or "Lord, I believe in You, but where are You!"
Jesus understands this, and so He returned, eight days after. He returned to restore Thomas' doubt and the brokenness of all his disciples. He returned to build faith, as we would see Him do more times through the forty days before His Ascension, to patiently take His disciples through a kind of catechetical formation so that they be convinced of the factuality of His Resurrection, of which they were to be apostles and witnesses. No one witnesses to what he is not convinced of. Jesus came back because He never leaves us in the patches of our struggles, He walks us through so that we come out wholly and stronger as we see here in the case of Thomas.
When Jesus returned, He addressed Thomas thus: "Thomas: 'Look at my hands, and place your finger here; and bring your hand close, and place it at my side. And do not choose to be unbelieving, but faithful.'” Can you imagine how Thomas must have felt? He must have been drowned by fear and shame, he must have felt he betrayed His Master once again. But he never let his emotions take the better part of him. In the midst of this emotional collapse in the face of the Ultimate Truth, Thomas uttered the timeless truth and supreme confession that we all should imitate: “My Lord and my God.”
Let these words of Thomas be our prayer, when we tend to doubt because of what we see around us. When we tend to doubt the inexhaustible mercy of God, let us pray with Thomas in his words. This is the prayer we need in order to be able to receive the peace that Christ gives us today. We need this prayer in order to be able to use the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation properly and humbly. We need this cry when we seek His mercy at the confessional. "My Lord, and my God!"