Today the Christian Church celebrates the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle who said that he could not believe Christ was alive until he saw and handled the wounds of Christ for himself. Recent modern interpretation of this story about Thomas (as found in St John’s Gospel) has treated Thomas as a skeptic who needed to have his faith confirmed empirically – by the evidence of his senses – rather than believing without seeing.
When Jesus appears to Thomas he allows him to see the wounds and feel them, and urges him not to doubt but to believe. Finally in this story Jesus pronounces a blessing on all who have not seen and yet have come to believe. It’s easy to read that as further criticism of Thomas’ skeptical approach.
Today we read this with the eyes of those whose culture is steeped in the scientific empiricist approach. We assume that the key issue about faith in God is that we are required to believe in an entity whom we have not seen nor have no way of proving. Doubting Thomas we think is behaving like a modern skeptic- he won’t believe what cannot be proved.
But I think the story of Thomas is about identity – the identity of the Lord the other disciples claim to have seen and Thomas own identity in the sense of whom he is prepared to identify with as his God. I am sure that there is no issue in St John’s Gospel about whether or not God exists, or whether amazing things incapable of rational explanation, like the dead rising, may occur. What Thomas doubts is whether the crucified one really could be the Lord of all – whether the suffering and wounded one can be the Messiah – and this is what is confirmed for him as he touches the nail prints; and whether he might place his life’s trust in that one who failed so abjectly by the usual criteria of success in this world.
When Thomas does see and feel those wounds he exclaims the most positive affirmation of any of the first followers of Christ: “My Lord and my God”.