The Gospel for the second Sunday of Easter tells how Jesus encountered doubting Thomas. The other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the risen Lord. Thomas’ reaction is disbelief and challenge. It is very easy for us to take a superior attitude toward Thomas’ doubts because we already believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Is such an attitude justified? Perhaps such an approach to this Scripture episode pays attention only to the surface meaning of the passage.
Even though it is true that Thomas doubted what the others told him about Jesus being risen, the story itself is not so much about doubt as it is of a journey from disbelief to belief. Each believing person makes a similar journey and continues to grow in belief so that our final response will be the same as Thomas’, “My Lord and my God.” (Jn 20:28).
Looking at the process that brings Thomas to belief, one sees that initially he was separated from the group. Because of this disconnection he alone did not experience the manifestation of Jesus to the others on Easter. If we try to put ourselves in Thomas’ position during the intervening eight days, we see a whole series of temptations to unbelief. “Jesus doesn’t love me.” “The others are experiencing hallucinations.” “If Jesus were truly risen, he would have waited until I was with the others.” “This resurrection stuff has to be tested by seeing Jesus’ wounds.”
When Jesus does appear to the whole group once again, including Thomas, he answers each of the challenges. He loves Thomas as much as the others. His presence is not a mere hallucination. He shows the wounds in his hands and side. The Resurrection is indeed true. Thomas makes the journey from disbelief to belief.
An evident aspect of the Resurrection comes to light in this encounter between Jesus and Thomas. We come to know and believe the Resurrection in a community context. With the exception of the appearance to Mary Magdalene and a reference to an appearance to Peter, all other Resurrection appearances occur in a group context. Sometimes the group is very small, such as the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Sometimes the appearance is to the Twelve. Sometimes it is to a larger group of disciples such as when Jesus appeared to 500 at once. Jesus had spent his life forming groups of disciples. Manifestations of the Resurrection rightly occur within those communities. The Resurrection, then, is not originally a Jesus and me event, rather it is Jesus and us.
At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed “That they may be one. . .” (Jn. 17:21). The common belief in the Resurrection unites all Christians in the risen Christ. For all our Christian differences we are united with all other believers who confess with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” We are one in the Resurrection, and we accept the words of the Lord, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn. 20:29).
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.