I love this story about St. Thomas - it makes me love St. Thomas because, to me, it’s so relatable. He’s so...reasonable. A man, a friend, who was quite clearly dead is said to be alive again. I would find that hard to believe if you told me that about someone I knew and loved.
Having said that, I want to give Thomas himself a bit of context.
All of the gospels name him in their lists of the twelve apostles. But only John actually tells us stories about him. And the first thing he tells us about Thomas is this -
Jesus and his disciples have left Jerusalem after the Feast of the Dedication when a group of people took up stones to stone him. Then, they hear that Jesus’ friend Lazarus is dying. When Jesus finally says “let’s go,” the disciples say, “you can’t go there, they were just trying to kill you!”
It is Thomas who says “if he’s going then ‘let us also go, that we may die with him.’”
This is the very first thing we know about Thomas. He is willing to die with Jesus, if it comes to that.
Many years later - around forty years according to the tradition placing his death in the year 72 - he did die for the sake of the gospel near Chennai, in southwest India. From Jerusalem that’s over 3000 miles by air, 4600 by land - on this continent, that’s comparable to the distance from Anchorage, Alaska to New York City.
That is Thomas - the one willing to die with Jesus, the one willing to travel to the ends of the known world to preach the gospel.
So with these things in mind, to me Thomas’s refusal to accept the news that Jesus is alive is the response of someone who loved greatly. To believe such incredible news only to find out later that it was mistaken identity, or a ghost, or worse yet just a tall tale… that would be just too painful, too cruel.
More than that - none of the apostles believe it when they’re first told the news. It’s not only Thomas - none of them believe it.
And on Easter Sunday, the other ten see Jesus, see his wounds… and Thomas only asks to have that same face-to-face assurance.
It is the wounds that Thomas singles out as the thing that will confirm the story.
And the gospel singles out Thomas as the one who doubted. Why?
The gospel tells us that Jesus did many other signs than are written here, but that these things are written so that you may believe - you, the reader.
This story of the meeting of Jesus and Thomas is not there to cast Thomas in the role of some second-rate apostle - he is clearly as deeply committed as anyone. And it is not there as a parable to shame us for questioning, for harboring a doubt.
It is there so that we may believe. It is there because Thomas is us.
It’s reasonable to question - the evangelist recognizes that, and gives us this story in response. The resurrection, virgin birth, miraculous healings, turning water to wine, the raising of Lazarus, feeding 5000 people with a few loaves of bread…. Of course it’s far-fetched. And the evangelist says, ok here’s the story of one man who found it hard to believe. And then we have Jesus’ words directed to us, in the form of Thomas - blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Thomas is us. And like Thomas, it is the wounds of Christ that assure us - this is really him. And it is the wounds that assure us that this is no sanitized god on a distant, shiny throne, holding himself aloof from the messiness of human life… The wounds promise that God suffers and carries the pain of the world along with us.
The wounds of the world are persistent - the scars inflicted by violence, hatred, racism, oppression… the scars left by disease, suffering, and loss… the inner scars of trauma, anxiety, despair… All these and more we can see every day in the world around us as we seek and serve Christ in all persons.
Thomas is us - like Thomas we need to see Jesus’ scars because it is the reality of them, the very fleshliness of them - that are powerful for us.
They are powerful because they are relatable - because they show how very deeply God is with us.
And they are powerful because for the marks of his suffering to have simply vanished… or for him to be in any way intangible… ghostly, otherworldly… would strip the crucifixion and resurrection of their power because then Jesus is not human. He is not what we are. And his death and resurrection would be only the sort of dazzling wonder we expect of a “god” - rather than this revolutionary event that fundamentally alters what we now know and see and feel to be the destiny of human life.
What we have in this meeting of Jesus and Thomas - Jesus and us - is this assurance that humanity, wounded and suffering humanity ARE the heirs with Him of resurrection life.
This story is written about a grieving and incredulous man - a loving and beloved friend and disciple - so that we may see ourselves in him, and so like him come to believe “and that through believing [we] may have life in [Jesus’] name.”
The Lord is risen indeed - in the flesh, wounds and all - to share the resurrection life with us...wounds and all.