Dominica in Pasqua II
Divine Mercy Sunday
8 April 2018
The Gospel gives us two glimpses into the room where the disciples were locked away. Two glimpses, each on a Sunday, one week apart. The first glimpse was the evening of Easter Sunday, the very day of Jesus’ Resurrection. The second glimpse, the gospel says, was “a week later.” In the charged atmosphere of Jerusalem in those days, days that had seen a mob develop calling for Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples are locked away in a room because of “fear of the Jews.” We can imagine they were locked away as much for shame and trauma as they were for fear that the atmosphere could very easily turn on them and call for their deaths next.
Given the dangers possible and the very real fear that clearly had gripped the other disciples, why then wasn’t Thomas the apostle with them? In the first resurrection appearance, in that first glimpse into the locked room, the Gospel tells us plainly that Thomas was not with the rest. Now, as I begin to reflect on this question it is very important to be fair and clear: the Gospel doesn’t tell us why Thomas wasn’t there. So, considering an answer and some lessons here requires that we admit that this is a spiritual reflection and speculative in nature. But provided the speculation is not contrary to what is directly said and revealed in the Scripture and in the Tradition, it can have value.
We could cast Thomas as a bit of a realist. In chapter 11 of St. John’s Gospel, we have the scene of Jesus hearing of the illness of his friend Lazarus and making plans to go to Judea to visit him and the family. In discussing this return to Judea, a place where the Jews had just tried to arrest and stone Jesus for blaspheming, for making himself out to be God, the disciples all clearly know the danger involved. Thomas, the realist, speaks up and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” It is perhaps good to keep this image of Thomas in mind when we usually only hear him described as the doubter. Thomas then (in chapter 11) and perhaps now in the gospel passage we just heard, was ready to be out in danger, aware of the consequences.
Why wasn’t Thomas with the rest? Maybe to some degree Thomas was just sort of getting on with his life. Perhaps his realist, matter-of-fact ways results, after the days of Jesus’ death, in just telling himself that it is time to get on with things, to go on with life awaiting what Jesus will do next, and to continue speaking and proclaiming Jesus as best he could. But whatever the case, he wasn’t going to waste time fearing the religious authorities.
Or, maybe, there is a hint of sort of walking away from things here. He’s not with the others. And maybe he doesn’t intend to be as closely associated now that things have ended with Jesus’ death.
It’s speculation, but whatever the case, the gospel does tell us Thomas was not with the group on that Easter Sunday. He had already stepped away from the safety of numbers even at the height of fear and possible danger.
And so it is that a week later, having heard from the others that Jesus is alive, Thomas is with them and has his encounter with the Risen Lord that results in one of the most clear professions of faith, a profession that we borrow as a pious custom when the Body and Blood of Jesus are elevated over the altar by expressing under our breath in silence the very words of St. Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” So, considering Thomas’ absence and then his profession of faith, what might a lesson be for us?
Is the “high” of Easter sort of already over for you? Might you be easily sliding into just returning to your day-to-day life? Now that we have done all that stuff we do over Holy Week are you just sort of getting back to your life? Don’t let that happen. Be changed by your encounter with Jesus the Risen One in the living Word of God and the living Sacrament of his presence at Holy Mass.
Another lesson: Many people need to be more deeply impacted by Jesus and by his death and resurrection that redeem us. We have seen the results in Holy Week – and if you came to the Easter Vigil, you saw directly the results – of new souls coming to Jesus and his Church, being baptized and received as new members of this gathering of disciples. No doubt there are many such souls out there still, who need your living witness of Christian faith, who need you to go even to places of hostility where Jesus is shouted and drowned out and to draw them to deeper life as disciples. This doesn’t happen where we keep ourselves locked away in a privatized faith that agrees to cooperate with the fraud of secular culture by resigning ourselves to keep our mouths shut about Jesus.
May our encounter with the living and Risen Jesus here in this place strengthen us as St. Thomas was strengthened by the encounter in the locked room. May it help us proclaim ever new: My Lord and my God! And may it help us go out into the world, into daily living, and to get on with being vibrant proclaimers of the resurrection in order, as the gospel said, that others “may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief [they] may have life in his name.”