It’s easy to miss fascinating details while reading the Gospels—but it’s also rather exciting, because when you finally do notice these details, you appreciate them so much more!
A few months ago, I had a particularly striking thought on the story of Christ’s appearance to the Apostles in the upper room, first without Thomas, and then with Thomas.
The Story From Our Catechesis Days
Most of us know the general story of “Doubting Thomas.”
In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you”… The other disciples said to [Thomas] ‘We have seen the Lord,’ but he answered, ‘Unless I can see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ (John 20:19, 25)
It’s so easy for us, who are far removed from the actual event, to “tsk, tsk” Thomas for refusing to believe the other Apostles and for daring to ask to touch the wounds of the Word Made Flesh.
But I think Thomas gets a bad rap unnecessarily. There’s much more to this story than meets the eye!
Where In The World Was Thomas?!
One of the first things that recently struck me about this passage is the simple, unassuming phrase “Thomas was not with them.”
All the Apostles, grown men—some of them burly fishermen—were hiding behind a locked door “for fear of the Jews.” But Thomas wasn’t there.
…he wasn’t hiding.
Where WAS Thomas?
Regardless of whether he “drew the short straw” to go get food for the “hangry” crew of Apostles, or whether he snuck out to see his family and tell them what he knew of the past days’ events, Thomas wasn’t hiding out in the upper room. He faced fear while the others were cowering.
Can you imagine how Thomas felt when he came back from his errand and found that either his brother Apostles had gone insane or that Christ had allowed him to miss a fantastic encounter? If I were Thomas, I would have found that to be rather unfair. After all, he wasn’t afraid to go out and risk the danger of the city and the possibility of being recognized as one of Christ’s closest followers.
At this particular moment, Thomas probably would have concurred with the spunky words that St. Teresa of Avila spoke to Our Lord: “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”
In the face of these realities, Thomas’s response to the Apostles seems much more realistic and relatable: “Unless I can see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.”
A Man of Bold Statements
This boldness of Thomas isn’t an isolated incident. If we go back to an earlier passage in the Gospel of John, in which the disciples fear for Jesus’s safety when He wants to go see Lazarus in Judea, Thomas tells the others, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn. 11:16). Thomas wasn’t afraid to proclaim his true thoughts. In this instance we see a bold, confident boast—and then in the upper room a bold and bitter doubt.
Christ, in His mercy and wisdom, takes this fearless man and gives him the opportunity to turn that bitter disappointment into a beautiful prayer of adoration.
From Bitter Doubt to Intimate Adoration
When Christ appears to the Apostles a second time, Thomas is there. While Christ does give the general admonition, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” He doesn’t punish Thomas for his doubt and desire. (Jn. 20:29) Instead Christ uses this weakness, and this poignant desire, to create an intimate moment with Thomas:
He spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving any more but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn 20:27-28)
The Apostle of Divine Mercy
I always thought that reading Christ’s appearance to the Apostles on Divine Mercy Sunday was simply for liturgical reasons. But now I see that this passage also perfectly fits because Thomas experiences God’s Mercy.
Two quotes of Christ to St. Faustina Kowalska bring this connection beautifully to light:
“I do not want to punish mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My merciful Heart.”
“Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy.”
Thomas, though he doubted, was not afraid to make an appeal to Christ and acknowledge the littleness of his trust in God. As Christ told St. Faustina, He cannot resist the soul who appeals to Divine Mercy.
Therefore, Christ takes Thomas’s weak faith and gives Him a tender moment beyond his wildest hopes. Thomas probably didn’t think he would ACTUALLY get to touch the wounds of his Lord. His plea was simply a cry of frustration and doubt and desire.
Christ allowed Thomas to actually touch His Sacred Heart, to actually place his hand where the Fountain of Mercy flows out. This prompts a beautiful act of praise, the one which many people privately repeat during the Consecration of the Host at Mass: “My Lord and My God.”
I’ve used the term “Apostle of Divine Mercy” several times now, and I like it more each time I use it. I think it’s a much more accurate and thoughtful title than “Doubting Thomas.” No one wants to be famous for doubting. But I sure wouldn’t mind being called an Apostle of Divine Mercy, up there with such promoters of mercy as St. Faustina and Pope St. John Paul II!
As the Feast of Divine Mercy approaches, let us ask for this humbled saint’s intercession, so that we will turn our doubts and fears into offerings to the Merciful Heart of God.
St. Thomas, Apostle of Divine Mercy, pray for us!