Trust after Heartbreak
In the Gospel Reading, the risen Jesus appears to ten of his apostles. Thomas is missing. The ten are convinced that Jesus is risen; but when Thomas rejoins them after Jesus has vanished, Thomas is highly skeptical.
A week later, Jesus appears to all eleven of them and invites Thomas to make good on his skeptical challenge: Put your finger in my wounds and believe, Jesus tells him. Augustine thinks that, without touching Jesus, Thomas believes. The Gospel does not say that Thomas did touch Jesus, Augustine says; and Jesus says that Thomas saw and believed, not that Thomas touched and believed.*
But, of course, this is just what the other ten apostles did in the first appearance of Christ, when Thomas was absent: They saw and believed.
So why didn’t Christ make his first appearance to the apostles at a time when Thomas was there too? Why did Christ first appear when Thomas was absent? Why single Thomas out in this way?
Thomas had trusted Jesus and believed he was the Messiah—and then the Romans killed Jesus and, with Jesus, the hope in Jesus that Thomas had. How much Thomas trusted before the crucifixion can be understood by the way Thomas hardened his heart against trust in the aftermath. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” we say. And the bigness of Thomas’s heart and the greatness of his trust in Jesus can be seen by how hard Thomas fell when he thought his trust was betrayed.
Thomas thought he had made a fool of himself by believing in Jesus, and he was not going to let his heart be broken again. And so when he heard the other apostles express their belief, he scoffed. In scoffing, Thomas protected himself against further heartbreak by turning his back on Jesus and all that Jesus meant to him.
And maybe that is why Jesus left Thomas out of his first appearance to the apostles. When heartbreak is so powerful, it can need space to breathe, to let its pain come out fully. Maybe if Thomas had not been able to move all the way from heartbreak to skepticism, he would not have been able to move back to Jesus so powerfully either. Without any more evidence than any of the other apostles had, Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University