Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
ONE OF THE READINGS in many churches this coming Sunday is from John’s Gospel, wherein the surprising and risen Jesus shows up to the disciples in a pair of different instances a week apart. In both situations, the disciples were sheltering from fear behind locked doors in a nondisclosed location. They were afraid of the same people who had it in for Jesus. (Read about it here.)
The first scene is in a dimly lit room on the evening of Easter, when Jesus steps into the light from out of a shadowy corner. Suddenly, he’s there. He said “Peace,” and it was his voice. He showed them his wounds, and it was his body. He spoke to them of forgiveness, and they knew it was his heart.
Because the disciple called Thomas had not been present that night, they told him later about everything that happened but he was skeptical. He said he’ll believe it when he sees it. Wounds and all. I find this refreshing, honestly.
The second scene happened a week later when Jesus steps into the circle of light again with the same password (“peace”). Perhaps Jesus read the room, because he goes straight to Thomas and invites him for an up-close look at his wounds.
“My Lord and my God!” was Thomas’ outburst in the moment of his recognition. It is a memorable confession of faith, astounding for its brevity and its completeness. A profound statement consisting of only five words, it is the summation of everything that mattered to Thomas.
In time, theologians will be busy formulating statements. Scientists will be measuring and hypothesizing. Writers will use a lot of words to tether the mystery to reality, but the words Thomas cried out will remain sufficient. My Lord and my God!
The twin-lens of faith
Thomas is accused of being a doubter because he asked for proof. So what if he wanted to verify? At least he was honest. But it was the vision he demonstrated after his eyes were opened that is deeply moving. When he saw the miracle of Jesus’ presence (and that would be spectacular enough), he also saw beyond it to who this risen Jesus is. My Lord and my God!
In this society, we are raised to think dualistically. Black or white, true or false, good or evil, & etc. and therefore, we are prone to interpret Thomas’ skepticism as opposite of faith. Label it as a doubt that jeopardizes the man’s faith. In the same way, we imagine that faith is the force that cancels doubt.
But with Thomas, we witness an example of faith working as two different but cooperating lenses for perceiving God in the world. He needed to see. And when he saw, he saw deeply. These aspects don’t cancel each other out, but serve to strengthen each other. Like an image viewed through a stereograph, the twin-lens of Thomas’ outlook freed his faith from the flat acceptance of fact to the liberated experience of a living three-dimensional reality.
To see Jesus
The story John tells here of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his resurrection begins with them huddled in fear behind closed doors. They meet Jesus with glad hearts and surely there was much to talk about. But between all the words of the other disciples — words of comment, question, vow, gratitude, appreciation, or suggestion — not one of them is remembered. Only the words of Thomas have lasted. My Lord and my God!
Perhaps that’s because Thomas, “doubtful” though he may have been, was the only one in this story who truly saw Jesus in the moment.
Were we to pray to see Jesus (actually see him), would he surprise us by showing up?
Would we have the eyes and the lens of faith to see him if he did?
Jesus, our dead and living friend,
We walk the ways of death and life
holding fear in one hand
and courage in the other.
Come find us when we are locked away.
Come enliven us.
Come bless us with your peace.
Because you are the first day of creation
and all days of creation. Amen.
— PÁDRAIG Ó TUAMA, Daily Prayer