The Believing Thomas, With Due Respect

Reflection on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) By Fr. Randy Flores, SVD

“Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). These are the words of Thomas says as he addresses his fellow disciples. The occasion: it is the eve of Jesus’ passion. News of the illness of Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, reached the Master and his disciples. Jesus waits for two days on the other side of the Jordan River as if to give Lazarus the dignity of dying and being raised again. Jesus is determined to go to Bethany near Jerusalem. His disciples are afraid of the consequences. The last time he was there, he was almost stoned to death (cf. John 10:31). So, the disciples restrain him: “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again” (John 11:18)? But Thomas persuades his fellow disciples to go with their Master and die with him. They heed Thomas.

Experts on the Gospel of John think that Thomas’s reaction is straightforward—he means what he says. Unlike Peter, who makes an empty promise to Jesus to remain faithful until death (cf. John 13:36-38, note that Peter talks to Jesus alone), Thomas intends his swords to his fellow disciples. It is perhaps for this reason that Thomas will stand out among the disciples in encountering the Risen Lord after his resurrection.

Today’s interpretation of this Sunday Gospel text is often times colored by the English expression “doubting Thomas” (synonym for “cynic, disbeliever, doubter”). Indeed, Thomas comes a late believer of Jesus’ resurrection, but never too late to formulate the most profound and radical confession of the divinity of Jesus n the gospels: ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou (“My Lord and my God,” John 20:28).

The disciple who had not remained faithful to Jesus when the latter faced violent death needs to make a kind of an oath of allegiance to the Master after the resurrection. This act is what Peter does when he meets the Risen Lord at the Lake of Tiberias (cf. 21:1-17). Thomas does not need such a renewal of vow. He has been faithful to his Master.

Thomas is a kind of a model disciple, one who sincerely seeks to understand the message of Jesus (see John 14:5) and, at the same time, commits himself to the person of Jesus. Without fear, he announces in public his readiness to share the violent death of the Master and so accompanies him on his way to Jerusalem.


[image above is Incredulità di San Tommaso by Caravaggio, source:]

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