Today’s Gospel reading is Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in the upper room – actually, two appearances. The first time Jesus appears (and it is that appearance I am concerned with here), Thomas is not with the twelve. We are all familiar with Thomas’ reaction when the others tell him they saw Jesus:“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
For that reaction, we give Thomas the moniker “Doubting Thomas.” I confess I’ve always had some sympathy with the poor man. We make fun of Thomas, but can you blame him? Put yourself in his position. If someone came to me a week after my father died and said, “Hey, we just saw your dad,” I’d say “you’re nuts.” That is not something I would believe on someone’s say-so.
But John Henry Newman’s comment about Thomas is worth reflecting on. Newman suggests that Thomas’ fault was in “pick[ing] and choos[ing] by what arguments he would be convinced,” that is, in demanding a particular form of proof, rather than examining whether there was enough out there already to convince him. Newman said:
He said that he would not believe that our Lord had risen, unless he actually saw him. What! Is there not more than one way of arriving at faith in Christ? Are there not a hundred proofs, distinct from each other, and all good ones? Was there no way of being sure he came form God, except that of seeing the great miracle of the resurrection? Surely there were many others; but Saint Thomas prescribed the only mode in which he would consent to believe in him.
If we are honest we will admit that we, too, are often guilty of expecting God to act in a particular way, of expecting to find God in the way that we prescribe, of setting the rules by which God ought to operate. Thomas is not the only one guilty of picking and choosing what arguments would convince him. I think we all would do well to examing whether there are ways in which we “prescribe the only mode” in which we will see God.