19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
Imagine the worst day of your life. Imagine you are back in that dark place of sorrow and mourning. Imagine all your hopes and dreams being crushed.
Hold onto those emotions for just a moment. That is how Thomas and the disciples felt on Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified, when their Friend and Lord was killed.
So by the time we arrive in John 20, the eleven disciples are completely discouraged. They can’t bear the thought of going on without Jesus. They have almost entirely given up on the Jesus Movement, but at least they are still together.
We find them huddled together in a locked room just two days later. It is Sunday evening. Mary Magdalene came to see them that morning with a crazy story about Jesus re-appearing to her. But they all knew that Jesus had died. He couldn’t be alive again. John and Peter went to check out the tomb and found it empty, but, come on, who could believe in a resurrection?
So it’s Sunday night. There are weird stories about Jesus floating around, and it’s dangerous to be seen in public in Jerusalem for these Jesus-followers. But then suddenly, Jesus appears to the disciples! He speaks peace, shows them his wounds, and confirms that he truly is alive!
They are full of joy! Their sorrow has been turned into gladness. All those negative feelings we were dwelling on a few minutes ago: imagine they are suddenly transformed. Imagine everything is restored and renewed.
All the joy of their encounter with the Risen Jesus is encapsulated in his final action. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto them. They are entrusted with the responsibility of releasing and retaining sins; the Holy Spirit of Truth, our Helper and Advocate, will move in and through these Apostles in the life of the Church.
The disciples cannot contain their excitement. Death was not the end. New and greater life meets them on the other side. But there is one problem.
Brother Thomas wasn’t there. Something most of our translations seems to miss is that Thomas wasn’t absent by accident. He “was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). The implication here is that Thomas had left the disciples’ group altogether. He really did give up hope. He didn’t want to get mixed up in any more of Jesus’s antics. He couldn’t handle the grief, pain, and danger. So he left some time before Sunday night.
And the disciples didn’t just have one conversation with him. During the next eight days, they were telling him over and over again, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25). They were chasing after Thomas because they didn’t want to lose their friend. Somebody in the church was hurting and afraid, and his friends didn’t give up on him. They had Good News from God that they needed to share, and they cared about Thomas’ well-being.
After about a week, it seems that after rejecting their news several times, Thomas finally got fed up with the disciples’ persistence. He finally couldn’t take being asked over and over again to believe something as ridiculous as a resurrection. So he gave them an ultimatum: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
Finally, by the following Sunday, eight days later, Thomas had rejoined the group. He may still have been unsure. He was still dealing with the trauma of losing Jesus, of seeing him on the Cross. But at the least, Thomas agreed to return to his closest network of support. He came back to the church community that had nurtured him over the last three years. Even if the business about Jesus coming back to life wasn’t true, at least he had his friends.
And it is in the context of these healed relationships that Jesus re-appears. “Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:26). The Risen Jesus comes back to rescue Thomas, chasing after him like a lost sheep because of his profound love for him.
And remarkably, our Lord accepts Thomas’ challenge about seeing and touching the wounds. Jesus says to Thomas, “Place your finger here and see my hand, and place your hand and insert it into my side, and do not become an unbeliever, but [become] a believer” (20:27, my translation).
This story is all about reconciling Thomas back into the community of disciples. Their brother was lost and then he was found. He was blind to the power of God to raise Jesus from the dead, but now he can see.
The other disciples play an instrumental role in this healing and reconciliation. Thomas had left them and the disciples continually went back to him because of their joy at seeing the Lord Jesus. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit they heal their relationship to Thomas.
That power they have to release and retain sins is not used as a weapon. Instead it is used for restoration. They gently but persistently call Thomas back into fellowship with them and with the Risen Christ. They want him to know the love and power of God to transform the world and their very lives.
Then Jesus himself confirms their testimony by appearing in front of Thomas. He again speaks peace to Thomas. He welcomes and invites his questions and his doubts.
Jesus and the ten disciples show us a path for reconciliation. It must begin with the peace of the Holy Spirit. It is rooted in sharing the Good News of God’s transforming, resurrecting love. And they share that news with gentleness and persistence. God is glorified when we become agents of healing and transformation. That is the Good News of God in Christ. It’s not about beating others over the head with all the reasons they are wrong or threatening them with punishment. God is love, and God is peace.
You might be one of the disciples who has been filled with the joy of the resurrection, ready to share that joy with a lost sister or brother. Or you may be more like Thomas, just hanging on by a thread. Either way, the Good News is the same: God raised Jesus from the dead. You are blessed if you believe. “Through believing you may have life in his Name” (John 20:31). Amen.
Davis, D. Mark. “Breath, Touch, Sight, and Faith.” Left Behind and Loving It. Blog. Published 15 April 2017. Accessed 22 April 2017. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2013/04/breath-touch-sight-and-faith.html