St. Thomas, it seems, can never catch a break, at least in popular culture. Our culture knows him as “doubting Thomas”, and one single and uncharacteristic lapse has forever labelled him as a doubter and made him the patron saint of sceptics. He is regarded as suffering from an innate tendency to doubt and to faithlessness, as if he somehow loved his Lord less than the other apostles. A quick look through the other pages of John’s Gospel reveals it is not so. If anything, Thomas loved Jesus more.
Remember how a few short days before the catastrophic events of Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion all the other disciples hung back in fear when their Master spoke of leaving the safety of their place across the Jordan to return to Bethany in Judea to visit Lazarus? Jesus told them plainly that Lazarus was dead, and then said, “let us go to him”. The apostles all thought that He meant visiting Lazarus’ bereaved family in Judea and being stoned to death for it, as He almost was before (John 11:7-8, 14-15). They all hung back, aghast at their Master’s determined plan. It was Thomas who refused to let Him go and die alone: “Let us also go,” he told them, “that we may die with Him” (v. 16).
Thomas’ famous lapse therefore did not spring from a cold heart, nor from a deficit of love. When the other apostles told him after the Resurrection that they had seen the Lord, and when Thomas responded, “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” (John 20:25), this was not the voice of scepticism. If Thomas were a despairing sceptic, he would not then have been with the other apostles at all. He would have said, “I’m done”, and returned to Galilee. No, this was not the voice of scepticism. It was the voice of desire.
That is, Thomas desired more than anything in the world to see His Lord alive again. His poor heart had sustained such a pounding and been broken into so many tiny pieces by the events of that last terrible Friday that he could not risk having it broken again. He dared not believe this latest report, for fear that it was wrong. He felt that if he raised his hopes again only to have them dashed, he could not survive. No more risks, no more taking chances. From now on, seeing was believing. But he clearly wanted to see and to believe. When he drew his line in the sand and said he would not believe this report unless Christ appeared to him personally, he wanted more than anything for it to be so. He drew this line, hoping beyond hope that Christ would cross over it. When Christ did, and offered His risen flesh to Thomas for inspection, Thomas sank to his knees, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” Here was everything he ever wanted.
Thomas’ desire for Christ challenges us today—and not just to believe in Christ without seeing Him for ourselves. Thomas challenges not just our faith, but our priorities. Thomas wanted Christ more than anything else, and everything else grew dim in the face of that desire. What do we want? What is our deepest desire? Is it for money? For health and happiness? Is it for the health and happiness of our children? Is it for success and recognition in our chosen field? Thomas would cheerfully have sacrificed all these things, if only he could have his Jesus back again. For Thomas, nothing was more important than Jesus. After falling down before Christ with his confession, he turns to us with a question: what is our deepest desire? How important is Jesus to us?