A man placed some flowers on the grave of his dearly departed mother and started back toward his car when his attention was diverted to another man kneeling at a grave. The man seemed to be praying with profound intensity and kept repeating, "Why did you have to die? Why did you have to die?"
The first man approached him and said, "Sir, I don't wish to interfere with your private grief, but this demonstration of pain is more than I've ever seen before. For whom do you mourn so deeply? A child? A parent?"
The mourner took a moment to collect himself, then replied, "My wife's first husband."
We know him as the doubting Thomas. I would prefer to talk about him as the grieving Thomas.
One never gets over the pain of losing a beloved. We just have to learn how to live with it. Losing a person we love can be one of the most tragic and traumatic moments in our lives. When we lose somebody we cherished and lived with for years, there is no predicting how we will react.
Each of us deals with loss in our own way. While Peter and the rest of the apostles were huddled up in the Upper Room still shocked with the death of their leader, Thomas chose a different way of grieving. He probably went out of the streets of Jerusalem, putting himself at risk, still questioning himself whether he could have done something to prevent our Savior’s death. Or perhaps he was just waiting for the time and the moment to accept what had just happened. Accepting the death of a beloved is a step too difficult to take.
Sometimes we could be like him. Sometimes we choose to live with nothing clear and nothing settled. Sometimes we want to keep our options open, because we know that once we settle on something or someone, demands will be made. If we remain uncommitted, we can pretend that things will eventually clear up.
So when the apostles told Thomas about the news of Jesus rising from the dead, he suspended his judgment with a condition. Unless he sees with his very eyes the mark of the nails in his hands and puts his finger into the nail marks, then he will believe. Thomas is the IRS auditor of the apostles, second to Matthew, the tax collector. He wants to make sure everything adds up. Before he believes, everything has to be exactly right.
When Jesus came a week later and showed the nail marks to Thomas, he did not dare put his finger on them. He believed. With the nail marks before him, he saw what his own sins had done to Jesus. He saw how God’s perfect work became subject to man’s imperfect deeds. He also saw himself.
Thomas is also called Didymus in Greek, which means the twin. Perhaps she had a twin sister or brother who will forever remain unnamed. But maybe, we are his twin sister. Maybe we are his twin brother.
Are we not like him when we doubted God’s goodness when we were surrounded by sin and evil? Are we not like him when we doubted God’s care and protection when we got rejected, frustrated and disappointed by people close to us? And are we not like him after we doubted God’s love when all we saw were pictures of catastrophes and destructions, all we heard were rumblings of hatred and divisions, all we read were words tainted by inadequacy and imperfections?
Thomas thought he could handle losing Jesus on his own. And just like many of us when we experience loss and grief, when we find ourselves in a bad situation, when we get in trouble, we shut ourselves off and go through our problems alone.
I hope that none of us falls into that situation. But if in case we do, just remember that there is always a reason why God is a community of persons, a trinity of one God. If in case we do, just remember that Jesus appeared after his death to the community of disciples, and not to every individual.
It is only when Thomas returned to the group that he learned about Jesus being alive. It is only when he went back to the Upper Room that he realized what he needed. It is only with Jesus that he saw what he needed to believe.
Before him were nail marks borne not just by our good Lord, but nail marks inflicted on the heart of every apostle. Before him were his fellow apostles who were also imperfect, flawed and doubtful. Before him was the Good News of a love that will never let anyone of us go alone, a hope that will never fade and a life that will never end.
Before Jesus, he no longer grieved. The grieving Thomas became a Thomas who believed.
1 May 2011