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Hard to believe what cannot be seen

The doubt of Thomas is proverbial. It is often said of someone who shows mistrust. “You’re a Doubting Thomas.” 

Yet, in hindsight, he seems to have done nothing wrong. Was Thomas really the only one to have doubts, while the other disciples readily and immediately believed in the Risen One? It does not seem that’s how things went.

The Gospel of St. Mark says that Jesus appeared to the eleven “and reproached them for their unbelief and stubbornness, in refusing to believe those who had seen him after he had risen” (16:14). 

In Luke’s gospel, the risen Christ addresses the amazed and frightened apostles and asks, “Why are you upset, and how does such an idea cross your minds?” (24:38)

In the last page of the Matthew’s gospel it even says that when Jesus appeared to the disciples on a mountain in Galilee (long after the apparitions in Jerusalem), some still doubted (28:17).

All therefore doubted, not only poor Thomas. How is it then that the evangelist, John, seems to want to focus on him when doubt gripped others too? Let us try to understand.

When John writes (about the year 95AD), Thomas had already been dead for some time. The episode, therefore, is certainly not reported to put this apostle in a bad light. If his problems of faith were highlighted, there is another reason. 

The evangelist wants to respond to the questions and objections that Christians in his communities raised continually.

They were third generation Christians, people who had not seen the Lord Jesus. Many of them had not even known any of the apostles.

They found it hard to believe; they were struggling in the midst of much doubt; they would like to see, touch and verify if the Lord is truly risen.

They wonder: what are the reasons that may lead to belief? Is it still possible for us to have the experience of the Risen Lord? Is there evidence that he is alive? How is it that he no longer appears? 

These are the questions that we ourselves ask today.

Mark, Luke and Matthew respond to them by saying that all the apostles had hesitation. John takes Thomas as a symbol of the difficulty that every disciple meets in coming to believe. It is hard to know the reason why he chose this apostle, perhaps because he had more difficulty or took more time than others to have faith.

What John wants to teach the Christians of his communities (and us) is that the Risen One has a life that escapes our senses; a life that cannot be touched with bare hands or seen with the eyes. It can only be achieved through faith.

We say, “Blessed are those who have seen.” For Jesus, however, blessed are those who have not seen, not because it costs them more to believe.

They are blessed because their faith is genuine and pure, indeed, it is the only pure faith. 


• Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Claretian Publications