St. Thomas the Apostle
A Bible Reflection
Tonight, I will talk about St. Thomas the apostle. Kilala ko siya bilang “Doubting Thomas.” Ganoon din siguro ang karamihan sa inyo. It is unfortunate that he is usually remembered as such. Ano ba ang character ni Thomas? I asked the Holy Spirit to help me in my reflection, I found 2 talks – one by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 and the second by Pope Francis in 2013. I will use these two tonight to share their thoughts on St. Thomas.
Thomas’ name is derived from a Hebrew root, ta’am (tah-am), which means “paired, twin”. John’s Gospel several times calls him “Dydimus” (cf. Jn 11:16; 20:24; 21:2), the Greek nickname for “twin”. The reason for this nickname is not clear. In this slide, you see St. Thomas carrying a square angle ruler or a builder’s square, which is frequently used by architects, and builders. Tradition says that he was a skilled carpenter.
In the Gospel of St. John, Thomas spoke on 3 occasions.
The first was when Jesus decided to go to Bethany to visit Lazarus. Bethany was close to Jerusalem where there was growing hostility against Jesus. John11:7- 16 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” (John 11:8). Remember, when the Gospels use the verb “to follow”, it means that where Jesus goes, his disciple must also go. Naisip nila siguro, “Mapapahamak din tayo pag pumunta tayo doon.” On that occasion, Thomas exhorted his fellow disciples: “Let us also go so we may die with him” (Jn 11:16). His determination to follow his Master is truly exemplary:
his total readiness to stand by Jesus, to the point of identifying his own destiny with that of Jesus and of desiring to share with Him the supreme trial of death.
Christian life is defined as a life with Jesus Christ, a life to spend together with Him. Ang sabi ni St. Paul sa mga taga-Corinth: “You are in our hearts, to die together and to live together” (2Cor 7:3). This is also to be our relationship as Christians with Jesus: dying together, living together, being in His heart as He is in ours.
The second time Thomas spoke was during the Last Supper, Jesus announced that He would be leaving them soon. He told them: “Where I am going you know the way” (Jn 14:4). It is then that Thomas says: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5)
Sasabihin natin siguro –3 years na silang magkasama, kulang pa rin siya ng pang-unawa tungkol kay Hesus. Sa totoo lang, ganoon din ako. Marami akong hindi alam tungkol sa Panginoon pero bihira akong magtanong o magsalita. Thomas was bold and brave enough to voice his lack of understanding. His question “How can we know the way?” provides Jesus the opportunity to pronounce his famous definition: “I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6).
Jesus makes this revelation to Thomas, but it is true for all of us and for every age. Let us be honest and bold like Thomas to say: “Lord, many times I do not understand You; help me to understand”. In our prayers, let us humbly express our lack of complete understanding of what happens in our life and ask the Lord for guidance. This way, we also show our trust and expectation of answers from the One able to provide them. By His Divine mercy, the Lord answers us according to His will and plan.
The third time was 8 days after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Three days after Jesus’ death, the Risen Lord appeared before the disciples in the locked upper room. Thomas was absent during this time. When he was told that Jesus appeared before the disciples, Thomas said: “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25).
From these words emerges the conviction that Jesus can now be recognized by His wounds rather than by His face. Thomas holds that the signs that confirm Jesus’ identity are now above all, his wounds. As we know, Jesus reappeared among his disciples and this time, Thomas was present. Jesus calls him:
“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing”
Thomas reacts with the most splendid profession of faith in the whole of the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). He was the first of the disciples to confess the divinity of Christ after the Resurrection. Pope Francis (in his homily on July 3, 2013 feast day of St. Thomas) spoke about how the Lord Jesus looked when He revealed Himself to the apostles “His whole body was clean, beautiful and full of light but the wounds were and are still there.”
This is the first lesson in this episode. According to Pope Francis, Jesus tells us that the path to Him is to find His wounds in the body of our wounded brothers and sisters -those who are hungry, thirsty, humiliated, enslaved, incarcerated or sick. These are the wounds of Jesus today. Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, through these – His wounds. Jesus tells us, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Jesus’ last words to Thomas were: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29). Jesus spells out a fundamental principle for Christians who will come after Thomas, hence, for all of us. In the Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul defines Faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Remember his admonition to the Corinthians – “We walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7
The second important lesson from this episode is doubt is not necessarily bad. In many occasions, especially when things do not go our way, we experience doubts and we can go in two different directions. When we are overwhelmed by our doubt and confusion, we may go astray, away from God, angry or resentful that He did not answer our prayer. Or because of doubt, we seek the Lord more fervently and it is His divine mercy and compassion which leads us to persevere and strengthens our faith. Which is the way it should be – draw closer to the Lord who will equip us to have a better understanding of His ways, through the power of the Holy Spirit who is our Counselor and guide.
What happened to St. Thomas after the ascension of our Lord Jesus? Tradition claims that Thomas first evangelized Syria and Persia (mentioned by Origen, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 3, 1) and then went on to Western India (cf. Acts of Thomas 1-2 and 17ff.), from where Christianity also reached Southern India. He might be a skilled carpenter for he built churches where he went. In Kerala, 7 1/2 churches are attributed to him. Church tradition says that he was responsible for converting many, including the wife and son of a king which angered the king He died a martyr, dying from a stab wound caused by a spear. St. Thomas is considered the patron saint of India and the patron saint of architects and builders.
The Apostle Thomas’ example is important to us for at least three reasons (according to Pope Benedict):
- It comforts us in our insecurity;
- It shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty; and,
- It reminds us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourages us to persevere, despite the difficulty, in our journey with Him.
Brothers and sisters, our earthly journey is not a smooth, paved road, but many times, rough and bumpy but we just continue to trust in the Lord’s divine mercy and grace to enable us to be faithful. He is counting on us to be like His first apostles, ordinary men and women who were able to evangelize and share His Word with others , not only where they were but all over the world – Indeed what mighty things they had done in the name of Jesus!
I end this reflection by expressing the hope that the example shown by St. Thomas will inspire us and strengthen our faith and readiness to follow Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.
Brothers and Sisters, let us again commit ourselves -mind, heart and spirit – to be true Christian followers. Hallelujah to the Risen Lord!
Delivered by Mr. & Mrs. Jimmy & Cecil Tomas on Apr 30 Serviam Corporate Worship, Santuario de San Antonio Parish, Makati