Opening the Word: Unseeing believing

Thomas wanted to see. And who could blame him?

On that first Easter evening, Our Lord appears to the disciples gathered together in the upper room. He offers his peace: “‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (Jn 20:23).

But Thomas was not there. Perhaps he was getting the fearful disciples some food to sustain them. Perhaps he was never there to begin with, getting on with his life after the death of Our Lord. Perhaps he couldn’t stand the sight of this motley band, who abandoned Jesus in his hour of need.

The other disciples find Thomas and say to him, “We have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:25). But Thomas does not want to depend upon the testimony of this rather inauspicious group of eyewitnesses. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25).

The following week Jesus does appear. And he invites Thomas to do precisely this. To see the mark of the nails. To touch the wounds in his side. Thomas, encountering the risen Lord, proclaims his belief.

This is a resurrection appearance that we know well. We know the tale of Thomas. We have listened year after year as some homilists praise Thomas for his desire to believe. We have heard others castigate Thomas for his unbelief.

But the Gospel of John has little interest in settling the case of doubting Thomas. Instead, the Gospel is written demanding that we believe where Thomas could not: “Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:31).

Do you ever feel just a bit cheated after reading this passage? Why don’t we have evidence of all the signs that Jesus did? Why can’t the Lord appear here and now so that we could believe?

I want to believe. I want to give everything to the Lord. But I want new signs and wonders. I want what is hidden to be revealed.

But 1 Peter cautions us against this reaction. For the new hope that has been revealed to us is not immediately evident to our eyes. It is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you …” (1 Pt 1:4).

The invisibility of our salvation is precisely what makes it effective. For unlike with Thomas, Jesus does not immediately appear before us, letting us place our hands into his side.

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Instead, “you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 1:7).

We do not see the fullness of divine love immediately.

Yet we give our wills over to the hidden Christ in adoring the sacramental sign of the Eucharist. In caring for the hidden Christ in the poor. By savoring the sweet, hidden signs of salvation in the Scriptures.

We do not see everything. We do not have all the evidence, but still rejoice.

We still love. We still hope.

And as we give our wills away, as we practice self-giving love, we begin to see the hidden Christ made manifest here and now among us.

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.