As part of my Triduum this year, I took the time to read the Gospel accounts of what I was living in the liturgy. I spent Holy Thursday reading about the Last Supper, the Agony, the betrayal, and the arrest and Good Friday reading every account of the Passion. It really helped me to enter in to the commemorations, but I didn’t have any epiphanies.
Easter Sunday was a different matter. Reading about Jesus different appearances after the Resurrection opened my eyes in so many ways. I sympathized with the women who were “fearful yet overjoyed,”1 saw myself in the Apostles who “worshiped but they doubted,”2 and wondered at the passion of Peter who does everything wholeheartedly, even when it seems rather an idiotic thing to do.3 But it was Thomas who really got me.
We know the story, of course. We heard it at Mass today. Jesus appeared when Thomas wasn’t there, Thomas doubted, then Jesus came and Thomas believed. A little late, but still. He came around–even became a great Saint, though he’s stuck with the name Doubting Thomas until the end of time.
The trouble is, we skim over the first part of John 21:26.
A week later, Jesus came back. A week. Between his doubt and his faith, Thomas suffered for a week.
Who knows why he doubted? Certainly the Resurrection was too good to be true. And maybe he thought the other Apostles had snapped–that the misery of the Passion had been too much for them and they were delusional. At first I’m sure he assumed they were just confused, that the body had been moved and would turn up. When they explained that they’d seen him, he must have started to wonder if they were lying to him. As they tried in vain to convince him, maybe he dug in his heels, refusing to be proved wrong. Maybe he wanted to believe but couldn’t see his way clear to.
I wonder if he didn’t start to think they were telling the truth. Did he wonder why Jesus left him out? Did he go over that day in his head again and again, trying to see how he’d offended the Lord? Was he blaming himself? Or did he start to get mad at Jesus for not showing himself to Thomas?
And as the week went on and Jesus still didn’t return, maybe he worried that his friends were really crazy. When he heard reports of other encounters, did it make him angry? Here he was, one of Jesus’ closest friends and the only one sane enough to know that the dead stay dead.
Did he feel left out? Or relieved that he hadn’t fallen victim to the same madness the others had succumbed to? Bad enough to uproot your whole life for a man who can’t even be bothered to defend himself before being slaughtered like a criminal–now he’s expected to live in some delusion. Still and all, it must have been hard to listen to them talk with hope and excitement when he was stuck in misery.
Did it take him until that next Sunday to believe? Did he really have to see the light shining through the holes in his hands? Maybe he came to believe days earlier and had to wait, hoping against hope that Jesus would come back, that Thomas would be there this time.
Was Thomas “too smart” to have faith? Was he too proud? Too mistrustful? I don’t know what caused his doubt. I don’t know what brought him to faith. But I know this: a lot of us are Thomas.
We’re supposed to believe and we just don’t. We might not even remember a time when we did. We’re surrounded by people who claim great peace in prayer and joy from knowing Jesus and we’re just going through the motions.
Or maybe we’re not going through the motions. Maybe we’ve given up even that, knowing as we do that this can’t be true.
Maybe we believe plenty but we still can’t sense his presence. We know Jesus rose but we can’t for the life of us see any resurrection in our own futures.
Wherever your doubt is coming from, remember this: Jesus came for Thomas. He knew Thomas’ obstinate doubt and he loved him all the same. He didn’t yell at him or cut him loose. He rose with holes so he could show Thomas, and when he finally appeared to him, I have to think he spoke with the very same tenderness I hear in his “Mary,” at the empty tomb. And he corrects him, indeed, but I imagine Thomas was overjoyed to be corrected by a God he could finally believe in.
Jesus came for Thomas. He brought light into Thomas’ darkness and healed his unbelief and he promises the same to you.
Still. He waited.
He waited an agonizing week as Thomas doubted his friends, his God, his reason, everything. He let Thomas stew. I don’t know why. But he knew. And if he’s leaving you in the darkness right now, he knows why he’s doing that, too. Be sure of this: he knows what he’s about. And just as Thomas’ week won him the confidence of millions of doubters down through the ages, just as Mother Teresa’s darkness won us all peace in the face of incessantly dry prayer, your suffering is working. It may not make you the greatest Saint of your time, but if it makes you a saint at all, it is well worth it. Hang on, my friends. Cling to those pierced hands. Sunday is coming.