The apostle Thomas is best remembered as the doubter—a stubborn realist who needed hard evidence before he would believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. But this label gives us only one view of the man.
Thomas was also a courageous man who exhorted his fellow disciples to stay with Jesus even though his enemies were seeking to kill him: “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16).
Thomas was also an adventurous man. Tradition tells us that after Pentecost, he became a missionary. He is said to have traveled to Edessa, in Syria, and then to India, where he founded many churches and died a martyr’s death. Another ancient tradition names Thomas as the only apostle to have witnessed the assumption of the Virgin Mary. Clearly, Thomas was a man of deep faith and strong commitment to the Lord and the gospel!
So as we look into this third story of resurrection faith, let’s keep in mind that Thomas’ faith may have experienced a setback when Jesus died, but that it he recovered and went on to become a great hero for the Lord. He may have had his doubts, but he didn’t let them define him for the rest of his life!
Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen. When Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb, she panicked (John 20:2). When John saw the empty tomb, he believed, but not entirely (20:8-9). When Thomas heard Mary’s news, he couldn’t accept it. Even when all the other apostles told him that they had seen the risen Lord, he could not be moved. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,” he said, “and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (20:25). And with that one remark, Thomas’ reputation was sealed.
When Jesus appeared to Thomas a week later, Thomas confessed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Finally, this holdout of a disciple had come to resurrection faith! But in a sense, Thomas was lucky. His faith was based on what he saw and felt and touched. Even Jesus told him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (20:29).
Scholars believe that the Gospel of John was written late in the first century—after most of Jesus’ first disciples had died. So very few of the people who saw the risen Jesus were still alive, and that left the rest of the believers to rely on the testimony of a small number of people. John wanted to encourage those who had not seen Jesus to believe without seeing. He wanted them, and us, to know that it is completely possible to have a relationship with the Lord even though we have never seen or touched him.
Of course, we don’t want to give the impression that Thomas and the other disciples’ faith wasn’t demanding. But at the same time, this passage tells us how demanding our faith can be. We have never seen the Lord physically. We have never heard him speak to us or seen him smile or felt him place a reassuring arm on our shoulder. But we are still called upon to believe in him and follow him. So when Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” we should see that Jesus has special blessings stored up for us—blessings that can help make up for our not having seen him in the flesh.
Seeing with the “Eyes” of Your Heart. This blessing is available to everyone! Because Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit, every single person can now enter into a living relationship with our eternal, unseen Savior. We may not be able to see him physically, but we certainly can “see” inwardly, with the “eyes of our hearts” (Ephesians 1:18). Peter explains it perfectly: “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
While there are many different ways that we can “see” Jesus, the most powerful way is through the gift of the Eucharist. We believe that the Eucharist is the “real presence” of Jesus—his Body and Blood, soul and divinity. So in a sense, we really can say with John that we have seen Jesus “with our eyes,” that we have “looked upon” him and even touched him “with our hands” (1 John 1:1).
If we accept the teachings of the Church, we can agree with these statements on an intellectual level. This kind of faith—a faith based on intellectual agreement—is a good thing. But if we want to know the “glorious joy” that Peter wrote about, we need to take one more step. We need to approach what we know intellectually about the Eucharist with an open heart. We need to add faith to our reason. That’s when we won’t just touch Jesus; we’ll meet him. That’s when we won’t just acknowledge his presence, we will be filled with his love and grace.
Jesus promised real and tangible blessings to anyone who comes to Mass hungry for the Lord. He promised us, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:56). If we receive Jesus with even a bit of faith, we will experience these blessings. And if we persist in our faith, these blessings will grow as well. They will become so real to us that we will be filled with joy. Receiving him in the Eucharist will make us feel as happy and comforted as we felt on our wedding day or at the birth of our first child. That’s how real and measurable God wants his blessings to become in us!
Inward and Outward Evidence. There are two ways we can tell if our faith is moving from intellectual assent to living, resurrection faith. One way is to look at our outward displays. As our faith grows, the grace we receive from the Eucharist and our personal prayer life will move us to be more constant in our love for other people. We will find ourselves becoming more peaceful, less easily agitated, and more caring. We will find ourselves eager to raise the spirits of the people in our lives—family members, friends, co-workers, even strangers. We will want to treat people with the respect and honor they deserve as cherished children of God. We will be less interested in the latest gossip and more concerned with helping the needy and suffering among us. And most important, we will find new strength to forgive people and let go of hurts that might have bound us up for days or weeks.
The second way we can tell our faith is growing is by looking at what is happening inside of us. As the Holy Spirit brings us to resurrection faith, we discover a new spiritual disposition in our hearts. Not only are we concerned with our relationships with other people, we are also eager to deepen our relationship with the Lord. We find ourselves wanting to spend more time with him. Prayer becomes less of a chore and more of a delight. The words of Scripture begin to spring to life, speaking directly to our hearts. We are concerned not just with fulfilling our daily responsibilities, but with doing them in a way that is pleasing to the Lord and brings him glory.
This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Like Jesus, we become more concerned about our relationship with our heavenly Father. And, again like Jesus, we become more concerned with the welfare of the people around us. We want to come in touch with the presence of the Lord, and we want to become instruments of his presence in the world. These are two concrete ways that we can tell that we are developing a deeper resurrection faith. They are also two concrete ways that we can tell that Jesus is blessing us for believing without seeing. So if you see characteristics like these growing in you, you can rest assured that God is moving in your heart!
Come and Find Life. In telling the story of the apostle Thomas, John placed a strong emphasis on the relationship between seeing and believing. John tells us that Thomas was finally granted to see the risen Lord, just as Mary Magdalene and the others had seen him, because he wanted to make it clear that Jesus is risen. All these eyewitnesses show that it is an undeniable fact.
But at the same time, John wanted to tell everyone that what these first disciples saw with their physical eyes we can see with our spiritual eyes. As he said, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). May we all find that “life” this Easter season. May we all be filled with resurrection faith in this Year of Faith!