Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Easter - Year B
Poor Thomas. For all eternity, it seems, he’s been given a bum rap. His very name, is forever synonymous with one who lacks faith: “Doubting Thomas.”
What most do not remember, however, is that in another Gospel episode, Thomas demonstrates himself as perhaps the bravest of the Apostles. In the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John, in the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus,
when Jesus hears that Lazarus has died he says to the Apostles: “Let us go back to Judea.” The Apostles however respond, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you and want to go back there?” Nevertheless, Jesus resolves, in spite of danger, to return to Judea and it Thomas who says to his brother disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”
However, hardly anyone remembers Thomas this way. Bad news always travels faster than good news. No one ever talks about the perfect airplane landing they had, they only talk about the bad ones. Likewise, Thomas isn’t remembered for his bravery. Posterity instead remembers his for his doubt.
He’s remembered for not believing in the resurrection until he saw the risen Lord. What we forget however, is that none of the Apostles believed in the resurrection until they too saw the risen Lord. They weren’t hoping to see the risen Lord, they were hiding out in the upper room with the doors locked, fearing for their lives. Just like Thomas, they didn’t believe it until they saw Jesus’ wounds. The Gospel tells us that as soon as Jesus entered the room, “he showed them his hands and his side.” Only after seeing these do the disciples rejoice.
I think what the Gospel is telling us is that it’s not just Thomas who doubts; all the disciples doubted. And by this, I think the Gospel wishes to suggest, that doubt is something none of us are immune from. We all struggle with doubt in our faith from time to time. Maybe this is why St. John the Evangelist calls Thomas, Didymus, which means twin. Who is Thomas’ twin? You and I. From time to time, we struggle with faith and belief just as Thomas. We want a sign, proof, confirmation that all this is true and not some fairy tale.
Pope Benedict wrote about this very struggle in his book “Introduction to Christianity” when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. “The believer,” Pope Benedict says, “is always threatened with... uncertainty.” However, uncertainty, the Pope points out, is also what the unbeliever is threatened by as well. “Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the nonbeliever is troubled by doubts about his unbelief.” In other words, just as the believer struggles with doubt and asks himself, “What if it’s not true?” So too, the non-believer struggles with his own doubt and asks himself, “What if it is true?”
Benedict tells another story about a man of science who goes to visit a Rabbi to argue with him and “shatter his old-fashioned proofs of the truth of his faith. When he entered the Rabbi’s room he found him walking up and down with a book in his hand, wrapped in thought.” Suddenly the Rabbi stopped and looked at the man of science and said, “But perhaps it is true after all.” The Rabbi then tells the man of science, “My son, the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued wasted their words on you... they were unable to lay God and his Kingdom on the table before you, and nor can I. But think, my son, perhaps it is true.” The man of science tried to argue with the Rabbi with all his strength. But that single word, “perhaps,” planted the seed of doubt in his own unbelief and broke his resistance.
“No one,” Benedict goes on, “can lay God and his Kingdom on the table before another man: even the believer cannot do it for himself.” But not matter how much unbelief may seem like a logical response to one’s doubt; the unbeliever “cannot forget the eerie feeling induced by the words ‘Yet perhaps it is true.’”
All of us have been, or will be, challenged by someone who simply does not believe, does not want to believe, or does not feel they can believe. Maybe that someone is ourselves. When they confront you with the proposition: “Perhaps it’s not true,” be humble enough to realize that we cannot lay God and his Kingdom on the table before them. Instead, retort with “Perhaps it is true after all.” That will be a good seed of doubt to plant in them.