(Andrea del Verrocchio's Christ and St. Thomas (1464-1483) at the Orsanmichele of Florence, Italy, Photo taken by Samuel Maddox, Canon PowerShot S330, via Wikipedia)
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." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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."
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." 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." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 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."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.
It's that time of the year again...the time of the year I lean back in my pew and see how Thomas is going to be portrayed in the homily. It has been a minority number of years that, in my opinion, he gets a break. I don't deny I have a "thing" about how Thomas gets portrayed in the "easy" way out, just as I have a "thing" about how Peter too frequently gets portrayed as a dim-witted oaf. Most of my life, so much of what I hear and read about this passage, at the very least, makes him a doubter, and at worst, makes him a near-disbeliever. Thomas gets a bad rap.
I read and hear the passage, and invariably think to himself, "Well, of COURSE I would stick my hand in there, too, you betcha!" After all, I AM a pathologist. I'd be pushing Thomas out of the way and going, "You had your turn, it's MY turn now!"
History has left "who Thomas was," in terms of his occupation other than "Apostle," a mystery. I like to think he must have had some kind of job where it was important for him to do "hands on" work--maybe a ceramics worker, or a carpenter, or a farmer/rancher. I always wonder if before he started hanging out with Jesus, he made a living with his hands and his job required sensory feedback to do the job right.
On the contrary, Thomas had to be a man of great faith, in my mind, for one simple reason. Dead bodies are ritually unclean. To touch a dead body equals "unclean x 7 days." Those days after the crucifixion and during the Resurrection had to be a time when what anyone close to Jesus needed most of all was the touch of each other. No one in Jesus' inner circle would have wanted to put him or herself into a ritually unclean state willingly. So for Thomas to do what he did in the story, it actually shows the strength of his belief, not his disbelief. It means his inner being knew Jesus was alive.
Actually, I think the story is in John to illustrate something that is very deep and basic in all of us--our desire to touch God in some way that is not just "in our head" and not just "in our heart," but "in our hands." It's no different than when we go forward for the Sacrament on the days we just want to feel the bread in our hand, and hold the cup, and eat and drink the substance of Christ. Not one bit. It's no different than when those of us who like to serve on the altar feel when we realize we LIKE holding the cross aloft, or hold the Gospel book for the priest, or take up the offering, or bring the bread and wine forward. It's no different than when we like to make repairs on the church building, or serve in a soup kitchen, or hold the hand of someone in prayer. We are wanting to feel the touch of Jesus' self on our hands, and we are hoping, that if somehow it is in us at the moment, that others can feel it through our hands. Many of us love to "touch the holy stuff," and truthfully, we like it when the holy stuff touches us back.
Sometimes, when I meditate on this passage, I start with "I wonder what Thomas felt in there, when he shoved his hand in Christ's wound." At first I sort of laugh to myself, "Maybe he really got to feel a spleen." (Inside medical joke: One of the hardest things to actually palpate on the abdominal physical exam is a spleen. Only about 10% of healthy people have a palpable spleen, so if you're feeling a spleen on the abdominal exam, odds on that person is ill from something or another.)
But once I can get past my own inside joke, my thoughts turn to the thought, "What does Jesus feel like, if you shove your hand up to the wrist in him?"I imagine Thomas' hand, not so much feeling a "thing" per se, but feeling a light and a warmth. Or, horror of horrors, what if something grabbed on to his hand in there? He might have yanked his hand out in a hurry there, eh? Well...truth is we kind of do that, when we actually do feel Christ's touch upon us. It sort of scares us. It may freak us out a bit. We might get those old "I'm unworthy," thoughts. We get touched by something so pure and clean, we jump back and declare ourselves unclean.
That's when we have to realize God touched US. It was HIS choice. He doesn't care about your self-declared uncleanliness. He wanted to do it. We didn't get grabby and profane God somehow. We didn't do anything wrong. You reached in, and he actively took hold of our hand. All we have to do is hold still, and feel it.
Truthfully, I think Jesus wants us to stick our hands into his wounds. After all, he invited Thomas to do it. Just don't pull back if you happen to feel something in there!