Incredulity of Thomas

Incredulity of Thomas

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter

April 16, 2023

Incredulity of Thomas

Homily for Sunday, April 16, 2023
The Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19–31

“Unless…. I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

As many of you know, our child Olivia this semester is studying in Paris.  In January while in Dublin I was able to go visit them.  One day while Olivia had class I took the train to Chartres to see the cathedral there.  This was my third trip to Chartres, and I was keen to see the cathedral again because about a decade ago the government initiated a deep cleaning of the cathedral’s interior and I was eager to see what the cleaning project had accomplished.  The newly-cleaned cathedral was amazing.  With 800 years’ worth of soot, smoke and pollution removed, the walls were white rather than black, and the famous stained glass windows were stunning.

For those who have been to Chartres, you may recall that behind the main altar, along the semi-circular aisle that curves around behind it (that aisle that in large cathedrals has all those chapels off of it) is a frieze of 16th century sculptures depicting the life of Christ.  Here is the Annunciation to Mary; there, the birth of Christ.  Here is the Transfiguration; there, Jesus before Pilate.  When I came to the resurrection scenes, there—in between “Le Christ apparaît à la Madeleine” (Christ appears to Mary Magdalene) and “Les Pelerins d’Emmaus” (The disciples going to Emmaus)—there was sculpted the scene of today’s Gospel.  There was Jesus pointing to the wound in his side, and there was Thomas kneeling down and inserting his fingers into the wound.  I was surprised to see, on the sign beneath, that in French the story is called not “Doubting Thomas” (as we tend to call it in English), but called rather, “L’incrédulité de Saint Thomas,” or, “The Incredulity of St. Thomas.”

Calling today’s gospel story not “Doubting Thomas” but rather “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” changes everything.  Gone is any sense of blame or judgment of Thomas; gone is finding in him some fault or a deficiency of character; gone is any sense that Thomas is somehow less or lower than the other disciples.  Rather, “The Incredulity of Thomas” allows Thomas’ experience to be just that: an experience that Thomas had.  Indeed, if it’s “incredulity,” Thomas’ experience is one we might all wish to have.  Seeing the risen Christ for Thomas must have been an experience of…incredulity, of wonder, of surprise, of astonishment, of amazement, of awe, of delight, of elation.

And Jesus’ calling the story “The Incredulity of Thomas” might help to remove any sense on our part that Jesus was blaming or judging or even chiding Thomas; and it allows us to imagine rather that maybe Jesus was glad to accommodate Thomas, that maybe Jesus wanted Thomas to draw close, that Jesus was happy to let Thomas “put my fingers in the marks of the nails” and—as in this particular sculpture Thomas does—“put my hand in his side.”

I have a hunch that in our own lives with God, we would love to experience Thomas’ “incredulity”: to experience wonder, surprise, astonishment, amazement, awe, delight and elation.  And I suspect, too, that Jesus would love to give us such an experience.  Just as Jesus returned eight days later when Thomas was present, bearing no trace of judgment or blame but probably eager to meet Thomas where he was, probably eager to let Thomas draw close and put his fingers in the marks of the nails and his hand in his side… So will Jesus continue to return to us, again and again, bearing no blame or judgment, but inviting us to draw close and—when we are ready—to put our finger in the mark of the nails and our hand in his side.  So that we alongside Thomas can exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

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