In a chapter entitled “On Slander” in his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Do not say that so-and-so is a drunkard even though you have seen him intoxicated, or that so-and-so is an adulterer even if you saw him in his sin, or that so-and-so is incestuous because he has been guilty of a certain depraved deed. A single act is not enough to justify the name of vice…To deserve the name of a vice or a virtue, there must be some advance in an act and it must be habitual. Hence it is untrue to say that so-and-so is bad-tempered or a thief simply because we once saw him in a fit of anger or guilty of theft…We must not draw conclusions from yesterday to today, nor from today to yesterday, and still less to tomorrow.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 29, p. 202)
So why is it, then, that we continue to refer to the Apostle whose life and legacy we celebrate on July 3 as “Doubting Thomas”? It has been nearly two thousand years since he declared to his peers what it would take for him to believe that Jesus was risen. Why should we vilify Thomas for being honest? Why should we beat up on Thomas for speaking from his heart?
Jesus certainly didn’t!
Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for his declaration. Jesus didn’t refuse Thomas’ request. Quite the contrary! Jesus showed him his hands and his side, and said, in effect: See my wounds? You bet! Touch my hands and side? Absolutely! If that’s what it’s going to take to convince you that I’m real, Thomas, then by all means do it!” It was then that Thomas believed that the person who was standing in front of him was the same Jesus with whom he walked for three years – the same Jesus, who spent his ministry meeting people where they were, now offered the same courtesy to him.
In the closing scene from the film Red Dragon, Dr. Hannibal Lector’s character opined: “Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real.” Perhaps Thomas intuited that only the scars left by Jesus’ humiliation, passion and death could convince him that Jesus had conquered death! Perhaps this is what prompted Thomas’ request. Perhaps that’s why Thomas had the courage to speak his truth despite the giddy euphoria of the other Apostles who had previously seen Jesus. Can you really blame Thomas for not taking their word?
Come to think of it, it is remarkable that the experience of resurrection did not remove the wounds of Jesus – the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. Notwithstanding these wounds, however, Christ’s resurrection powerfully demonstrated that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice — as real as they were — did not, ultimately, wield the last word. While suffering was clearly a part of Jesus’ life, there was so much more to his life than only suffering.
Maybe it’s time for us to retire the moniker “Doubting Thomas” and replace it from this day forward with “Honest Thomas”!