The Gospel of John begins with these words from the prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). This verse is important for our understanding of today’s gospel.
Three days had passed since the crucifixion of Jesus. The disciples had abandoned him for fear of their lives. Now on this first day of the week, Sunday, they are in the house with doors locked and bolted. They are still afraid of the Jerusalem leaders who put Jesus to death.
Then it happened. Jesus came and stood in their midst with words of comfort and forgiveness: “Peace be with you.” Three times he repeats these words to these disciples whose fear and shame turned to joy at seeing the Risen Lord. All were present in the house, except one – Thomas, called the Twin. He was off alone, isolated, his heart shattered, his hopes crushed at the death of Jesus.
I can commiserate with Thomas. When my father died, and then several years later, when my mother died, I insisted on being left alone. I wanted no one near me. Just leave me alone in my grief. Eventually, however, I returned to family and community. Through them, I came to accept the deaths of my loved ones, and to embrace their presence in the joy they were in my life.
So too, the disciples went to Thomas and declared: “We have seen the Lord.” But, so engulfed in grief and doubt was Thomas that he rejected their message. “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” (Jn. 19:25).
Then, it happened – again. A week later, Jesus came and stood among then. But this time, Thomas had rejoined his disciples. This time, Thomas saw the Risen Christ. Jesus did not scold Thomas, did not reprimand him for his doubts. Rather, he invited Thomas to touch his wounds if that is what he needed to believe.
The point of this episode is clear. We are Thomas’s twin. And like our brother, we will never see Christ if we choose to live in isolation. Only in community can we see, can experience the Risen Christ. Only in community, as we stand in solidarity and compassion with one another, comforting one another, touching the wounds of Christ – our wounds – in our brokenness, in our imperfection, can we experience Christ. Only then, in community, can we joyfully proclaim to others, “We have seen the Lord!”
And then, it will happen again. Like our twin brother, we too, will pronounce the greatest confession ever: “My Lord, and my God.” My Lord and my Theos. No one, until Thomas, had made such a bold declaration, that Jesus is God. Theos—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God — begins the Gospel of John, and Theos—“My Lord and my God — concludes his gospel. So, too, those words are the twin bookends in our lives; when we are baptized in Christ and in death when we hope to see the Risen Christ. And throughout our lives in between, we are called to live in community to minister to one another, touch and to heal one another’s wounds. And when we do this, we will surely see the Risen Christ, and proclaim to all: “We have seen the Lord.”
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.