On John 20:24-29
At the end of the Prologue to his Gospel, St. John tells us: “No one has ever seen God. But the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (1:18). We are rightly used to thinking of St. Thomas as the one who saw and believed. But when in that upper room, eight days after Easter, he cried out: “My Lord and my God!” he did not see God the Father standing before him. What he saw was the man Jesus.
Now in today’s Gospel, on the eighth day after Easter, we hear Jesus invite Thomas to make an act of Faith; to go beyond what he can see to the divine reality it both manifests and conceals. Of course it was impossible for Thomas any longer to doubt that Jesus, his beloved Master, who had been crucified and buried, was now alive.
Still, the step he was invited to take, and did indeed take, went far beyond this. Thomas had to affirm, with final conviction, that to have seen Jesus is to have seen the Father (14:9). He had to accept that in Jesus, God the Father is uniquely and perfectly revealed, because Jesus is himself one with the Father (10:30).
The cry of recognition and worship that was the response of Thomas then brings us to the climax – we could almost say the summary – of the whole Gospel of St. John. With those few words, Thomas spoke for all the other Apostles, and for the whole Church until the end of time. His astonishingly bold profession of faith is all the more striking, in that beforehand he had so obstinately doubted.
Now, in confessing the divinity of Jesus Christ, Thomas makes the act of faith that is the distinguishing mark of every Christian. In doing so, he stands with us as one who believes. The additional blessing we receive is given because we believe even without direct sight of the risen Lord.
How can anyone ever believe in something that is reported to him, if he has no means of checking up on its veracity? He can do so to the extent that he has confidence in the trustworthiness of the witness, or messenger. St. Thomas, with all the other Apostles, arrived at the conviction that Jesus is supremely trustworthy as a messenger from God; that all he said about God and about himself is true; that therefore his words are the supreme Truth, and they are life for us.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the ultimate demonstration of the truth of his words about himself, and the final seal of divine confirmation on his whole mission. In face of that, the faith of the Apostles was established on a foundation that nothing could ever shake, and this faith they have passed on to us. In his first letter, St. John expresses this, almost as if giving his words to St. Thomas:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, and looked upon, and touched with our hands, the word of life… this we declare to you” (1 Jn 1:1).
Our faith, then, rests on the testimony of the Apostles. Did not Jesus himself say to them on Easter Day: As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you (20:21)? So Jesus bears witness to his Father, and the Apostles bear witness to Jesus. But for us to receive what they have passed on, another witness, another testimony is necessary. That is the witness of the Holy Spirit. It was by the Holy Spirit that St. Thomas was able to pass from seeing the man Jesus to confessing him as his Lord and his God. And by that same Spirit we also make the same step towards faith.
Today’s Gospel invites us to ponder how we ourselves are able to believe in Jesus, with full assurance and conviction, even though we have not directly seen him or touched him. We can do so because we know that the testimony we have received is trustworthy.
God wants us to rest our faith on testimony, rather than on demonstrable proof, because it is good for us to do so. Faith will always be a free choice, as well as a gift, and a virtue. Faith always involves not only the acceptance of evidence as true, but also conversion, self gift, self surrender. God asks for faith, because what he freely gives he wants to be received freely in turn.
Our faith is that in Jesus, and above all in his death and resurrection, we receive God’s self revelation, and self communication. In Jesus God reveals himself as Trinity, and through Jesus, he offers us a participation in his own divine life.
“My Lord and my God”, cried Thomas. This cry ever continues on in the Church, and in our own lives, which we want to offer as a living witness to Jesus in the world of our day. The cry resounds especially in the Holy Eucharist, where Jesus once again comes among us, giving us himself, and his peace, and his gift of forgiveness. In the Eucharist, all that Jesus came to give us is poured out for us, and we receive him in his fullness, though by faith and not by sight, under the forms of bread and wine.