When tourists visit a so-called ‘beauty spot’, they feel the need to take photos, buy cards, and souvenirs. They want to have some tangible memento to take home to show their friends, and which will help to keep alive their memory of the place.
You see this especially with pilgrims to the Holy Land. They want to touch and to kiss things. They buy lots of souvenirs. And they collect lots of little things to take back home with them from the various holy places they visit – a leaf, a wild flower, a pebble, a bottle of water, a little soil … They want to have something tangible to take away to show their friends, and as a visible reminder to themselves of their trip. And here we are talking about people whose faith is sound and sure.
This expresses the universal human need for the visible, the concrete, the tangible. Hence, we can sympathize with Thomas when he declared that he would not believe the Lord was risen unless he actually touched him. He was merely echoing the human cry for certainty.
Nevertheless, where faith is concerned we have to go beyond this. Because here on earth there is no such thing as absolute certainty about spiritual things. If there was, faith would not be necessary.
Why did Thomas insist that he had to touch Jesus? Wasn’t seeing him enough? He had to touch him in order to be healed. He had seen others healed by touching him. Some of these were healed by touching just the hem of his robe, so strong was their faith. But Thomas’ faith was so weak that he had to touch Jesus himself.
In truth, Thomas was the wounded one. His mind was darkened by doubt. His heart was broken with grief. Even though these wounds were invisible, they were very real and very painful. But Jesus was able to see them. It was he who touched Thomas’ wounds, and so made him whole and well again.
The human heart is healed only by the presence of another human being who understands human pain. The Lord’s wounds help us to recognize our own wounds, and to find healing for them. His wounds were caused by his love. They were the proof of his love. They were the mortal wounds the Good Shepherd suffered for the sake of his sheep.
The story of Doubting Thomas brings home to us just how frail is the human container in which the gift of faith is carried. And it also shows us that Christian faith is essentially faith in a Person who loves us – and has the wounds to prove it. That person is Jesus. At the heart of biblical faith is not only the faith we have in God, but the faith God has in us.
Jesus said to Thomas, “Thomas, you believe in me because you have seen me and touched me. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” This was a little dig at Thomas’ stubbornness. But it was also meant as an encouragement to us who are asked to believe without being able to see or touch.