But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (verses 25-28)
Thomas always gets short shrift in our recounting of the Gospel story. He was the one who had counseled fearless bravery in following Jesus back to Judea at the time of Lazarus’ death (John 11:16). He was the one whose boldly-spoken query about Jesus’ destination had elicited the response: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). But, unfairly, we only remember him as the Doubter. How could he have been otherwise? He wasn’t there on the first day of the week when Jesus first appeared to those other disciples. They themselves were only counted as “believers” once they had seen Jesus suddenly appear behind locked doors, heard him speak words of peace twice over, watched him eat fish, and then received his instruction. Thomas got none of that. Instead, he was left doubting.
Which is to say, actually, that he was left in pain. He was deeply, deeply grieving the loss of his Teacher and Lord. Why hadn’t he been there on that first day of the week? We don’t know, but I wonder if he’d left town, desperately seeking some distance from the grievous events of that black Friday’s crucifixion. Regardless, he was in pain. Can’t you hear it in his bitter-edged response to the disciples’ overwhelming joy: “Unless I see … and put my finger … and put my hand … I will not believe.”
So, imagine the racing heart he must have experienced as Jesus suddenly appeared in the room again a week later. Imagine the joy that must have welled up, healing the pain, as Jesus spoke those words over him, “Peace be with you!” Imagine the revival of hope and commitment that must have overwhelmed his heart as Jesus looked him in the eye, with no condemnation but only joy-filled invitation, and said, “Put your finger here … Reach out your hand … Stop doubting and believe.”
No wonder the only words he could speak were, “My Lord and my God!”, which, it should be noted, is the strongest response of any of the disciples up till that point. Thomas was a doubter no more.
Nor, apparently, did he doubt for the rest of his life. Tradition has it that, in pursuit of opportunities to declare the good news of Jesus, his Lord and his God, he travelled all the way to India. Again, tradition tells us that ultimately he gave his life there in martyrdom, declaring that Gospel message. The impact of his faith reverberates still. I have friends who trace their family’s spiritual heritage to the testimony that Thomas brought.
The ripples of his encounter with Jesus flow into all eternity.
Oh, Lord Jesus, may you so encounter me afresh that I, like Thomas, may doubt no more. May you so rivet my attention that I, like Thomas, gladly declare you my Lord and my God. May you so fill me with your Spirit that I, like Thomas, may serve you faithfully right to the end. Amen.
Reflect: Take stock. Are there doubts in your life that inhibit you from following Jesus as closely as you might? Take anything you are aware of and place it now in Jesus’ nail-pierced hands.
Picture: Caravaggio, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, ca 1601-2, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons