It’s easy to make the mistake that believing was easier for those who saw Jesus than it is for us. The Gospels show that there were many people who saw Jesus and yet didn’t come to have faith in him. Seeing is not necessarily believing. The act of faith involves a decision to believe.
In fact, the Gospel shows that even the apostles had their problems believing. Thomas wasn’t the only apostle to doubt the resurrection. All of them did. St Mark tells us that when Jesus appeared to them on Easter evening, “he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”
The example of Thomas is particularly enlightening for us. He showed a refreshing honesty. He made no attempt to hide his doubts. Doubt is often looked on as a sign of weakness. We tend to feel guilty about having doubts. But doubt can be a growing point, a stepping stone to a deeper understanding. It certainly was for Thomas, because he went on to give expression to the highest statement of faith in Jesus in the entire Gospel of John: “My Lord and my God.”
Here on earth, there is no such a thing as absolute certainty about spiritual things. If there was, then faith would not be necessary. Absolute certainty can lead to arrogance, intolerance, and stupidity. “The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith.” (Thomas Merton)
Every community could do with a character such as Thomas, that is, someone who has the courage to ask the questions no one else dares ask. Such people are truthful, and they help to keep the others truthful too. They upset the believers by demonstrating the fragility of their faith; they upset the skeptics by making them feel the torments of the void.
Having overcome his crisis of faith, Thomas went on to bear courageous witness to Jesus, and became one of the greatest missionaries of the early Church. According to tradition, he brought the Gospel to Persia, Syria and India, where he was martyred. Thomas was the first of the apostles to die for the faith.
Jesus invites us to draw close to him in faith and to look at his wounds. Even though we can’t touch him physically, we can draw close to him spiritually. And we too are called to bear witness to others. Our task is to make Christ “visible” in the world. That’s the way it was with the first disciples. Once they had seen Christ, they felt compelled to make him known to others. The world today is full of doubters and unbelievers. The only way they will be converted to belief is if they can “see” Jesus and “touch” him in his followers. But if his followers have no wounds of love to show them,
the unbelievers are not likely to be convinced.
May we deserve to be numbered among those whom Jesus declared blessed, namely, “those who have not seen and yet have believed.”