Our language and history have not always been the nicest to Thomas. In the minds of many, Thomas is a man who could not take a leap of faith. He is an apostle maybe, but not of the highest calibre. He is doubting Thomas, and he seems to us to be closer in personality and temperament to a skeptic than a follower of Jesus Christ.
And yet, what we do know about Thomas from Scripture and tradition verifies quite strongly that he was a man of passion and purpose. According to some historians, and the living consensus of our brothers and sisters in India, Thomas was the one who brought the Good News to them, and against many odds.
In the Bible, we find that when Jesus shared two terrible developments with his disciples, that they were to re-enter Judea (the place where the mob was trying to kill Jesus), and that Lazarus had died, Thomas responded with something quite remarkable, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11). Now whether Thomas thought the best course of action was to die with Jesus or with Lazarus is always up for debate, but whatever his intention it cannot be said that Thomas washed his hands of the whole project.
This is in stark contrast to Peter, who when presented with Jesus’ plan to suffer and die, felt it necessary to rebuke our Lord, only to receive one in return. But Thomas, with all of the passion we are used to hearing from those in love, embraced the cross without hesitation, saying in effect, if death is the goal, well then let’s get to it!
And finally in his encounter with the risen Jesus, Thomas was the one who uttered most plainly who Jesus was: My Lord and my God (John 20:28). While Peter’s inspired declaration had with it all of the precision and depth necessary for the religious leaders, Thomas’ words brought forward from the Old Testament the most common title used for this God, Adonai Elohim (i.e. Lord God). These words would not only be the thorn in the side of all future adherents of the heresy of Arianism, who declare quite boldly that Jesus is not God, but they would also be a rallying call for anyone living in the Roman empire in the years following the ascension of our Lord. When the Emperor Domitian insisted that the people refer to him as Dominus et Deus Noster (i.e. our Lord and our God) Christians had the words of Thomas to embolden them.
It is true, Thomas did not believe at first that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But with the exception of John, who stood inside the empty tomb and believed, none of the other apostles did either. For all of these, Jesus would have to come and stand among them.
So let us really try to remember that although he might forever remain doubting Thomas in our minds and conversations, that Thomas is still a saint, and more than worthy of imitation.