ColumnsSunday’s Word

New hope through resurrection

April 19, 2020


Acts 2:42-47

The early faith community

Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24

Give thanks to the Lord

1 Pt 1:3-9

New hope through resurrection

Jn 20:19-31

“My Lord and my God”


Who is Thomas? Thomas, for his part, is always listed as one of the apostles (Matt 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). But only in John is he given a prominent role.

Thomas appears in three scenes — in the Lazarus story (11:16), in the Last Supper Discourses (14:5), and most impressively in today’s Resurrection story (20:24-28). These three scenes punctuate the final week. The Lazarus story is the occasion that precipitates the Passion. The Supper Discourses explore its meaning. Resurrection sees the story come full circle.

In the Lazarus story, he has the role of making clear to the others the risk in returning to the Jerusalem area. “Let us go and die with him.” Thomas is the skeptic, the realist. The situation is stated bluntly — returning to Jerusalem will mean almost certain death. But the statement also says more than this. There is an affirmation of solidarity, in its own way. Let us die with him.

Probably, as elsewhere in John’s Gospel, the words have a meaning beyond what the speaker knows. At the least, it means that they will return with him, even though the danger is immense. That is a kind of solidarity already. In general, Thomas says openly what is otherwise implied. This is his role, as the realist. Not only is this a danger for Jesus, but it is for them as well.

The second appearance is at the very beginning of the discourses at the Last Supper. In the Supper Discourses, Thomas has the role of questioner — Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way? This sets up the response so famous — “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:6). This is a brief vignette, but it is the question that sets up the entire set of speeches at the Supper.

His question again is larger than the local setting. “Where you are going” speaks to the entire plan of the Gospel story. It is the trigger for the discourses that explain the meaning of the Gospel story of Jesus. It sets up the explanation for his death and resurrection. Jesus is returning to the Farther, and this question allows that theme to be articulated in the discourses of Jesus.

And here maybe we see something more, something that takes just further along in understanding what Thomas means to the Gospel story. He asks for a clarification. This is in character, I think. He likes things clear. He is the one who asks the question others are harboring, but not saying. This is his role.

The third appearance is the primary one. When the disciples inform him that he missed the appearance of Jesus, he delivers his famous retort, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (20:25). This is Thomas the skeptic, the realist. His skepticism secures his witness, late as it is.

The absence of Thomas leads into the following verses: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31). Thomas stands not only for the disciples, as their outspoken mouthpiece. He stands for the readers as well, we who attend the event only through our encounter with the biblical report.

For reflection: The skeptic’s act of faith means more.

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.