The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter was taken from John 20:19-31, the story we will all recognize as "Doubting Thomas". There's a few things I would like to focus in on, so here is the full reading for us to reference:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” 26 Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
I wanted to provide a reflection on this passage both because I particularly like this story and because I think, too often, "Doubting Thomas" gets a bad rap. We read this story and we see Jesus appear to rebuke Thomas in v. 29 with "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." We immediately recall here a similar statement from Jesus from earlier in the Gospel of John, where in John 4 the royal official begs Jesus to heal his son and Jesus responds "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe" (John 4:48).
It's clear from these two statements that Jesus wants us to believe without the need for signs. And so we read Jesus' statements as rebukes. "Why do you require a sign? Why don't you simply believe?" It's very easy to read this story and come to the conclusion that we shouldn't be like Thomas, or like the royal official--we shouldn't wait for a sign, but rather we should believe. "Don't be Thomas" is a message I think most of us are used to hearing, and even thinking ourselves. That's not necessarily an incorrect reading, but I think it is incomplete. There is something much deeper going on here that I hope I can tease out for you.
Jesus calls on both Thomas and the royal official to believe absent a sign. And yet he still gives them the sign they desire. Jesus heals the royal official's son, and Jesus lets Thomas put his fingers in his wounds. "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed", yes, but that doesn't mean that these two are not blessed as well. Notice the use of pronouns in this passage (yes, I know this can seem a bit tedious, but bear with me). The disciples proclaim "We have seen the Lord" (v. 25). They speak together, in one voice. But Thomas separates himself from the "we" and uses only singular pronouns. "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." And after he does so, Thomas' proclamation remains in the singular. "My Lord and my God!" Thomas is one of the Twelve, and thus he ought to be included in that "we", but Thomas is also an individual man and has his own particular needs.
This action on Jesus' part was not for the benefit of the other disciples. They already believed. This was a special act for Thomas. This was a unique response to Thomas' need in order to bring him to belief. That is why Thomas doesn't proclaim "Our Lord and our God" but rather "My Lord and my God". In that moment, Jesus responded personally to Thomas and became, in a unique way, Thomas' God. It is the same for the royal official. Both he and Thomas required a sign, and even though Jesus calls on them to believe without signs, he gives them signs anyway. He meets them where they are, and responds personally to them such that they are enabled to come to belief.
If you've been following my blog, you may remember this topic coming up briefly in my birthday reflection. In The Church and the Catholic, Romano Guardini describes this unique response of God in what he calls "Christian Personality". While we are all members of the Church, the "we" the disciples proclaim, we are all still individuals with our own particular needs and seeking our own personal relationship with God. God responds to the "we", yes, but God also responds to each of us as individuals, in whatever particular way we require, so that we come to believe. God looks upon the "we" and to it he says "Thou", and in hearing the "Thou" of God the Church realizes itself, it recognizes what it is and what it is for. But God also looks upon the individual and says to it "Thou", and in so doing the individual realizes that it is an "I", it is a unique individual person to whom God is reaching out and in our response we recognize that it is only in God that we fully realize who we are. That is Christian Personality--our unique relationship with God as individuals in which God enables us to fully realize ourselves.
This is what is going on with Thomas, and why Thomas' climactic proclamation is in the singular tense. Jesus is "the Lord" (v. 25) as the disciples profess--that is, the Lord of the community. But Jesus is also uniquely "My Lord and my God!" Wherever we are in our search, whatever we require to come to believe, the message of "Doubting Thomas" is a promise: God will meet you where you are, and God will respond to your unique needs.