I love how artists help us read and hear Scripture in new ways. Occasionally, they help us perceive aspects of biblical texts for the first time. Paradoxically, in one case artworks have nurtured a mis-hearing of the Gospel. For all the paintings of Thomas that I know refer to him as having doubt, and portray the resolve of that doubt as coming from his touching the side or hands of the risen Jesus. But look closely at John’s Gospel. In his visit to the room where the disciples have been hiding, the risen Jesus does not directly attribute ‘doubt’ to Thomas. Instead, and perhaps with his prior visit to the other disciples in mind, he merely tells Thomas not to doubt. Nor does John describe Thomas as taking up Jesus’ invitation to touch him. Jesus credits Thomas for believing after seeing him, rather than after touching him. He then encourages the kind of belief that does not rest upon seeing.
Notice how the other ten disciples are hiding in fear, rather than joyfully confident, when Jesus comes to where they have locked themselves in. They are described as rejoicing only after Jesus shows them his hands and his side. In other words, Thomas is not unique and different from the other disciples, and benefits from exactly the same experience that transformed them from people fearfully hiding into those who are rejoicing. Their joyful confidence is reflected in their words to Thomas when he later arrives. They say, “We have seen the Lord.” Their joy is the direct result of seeing Jesus’ hands and side, the very things Thomas says will be key to his own believing. So, the ten did not believe until they saw; and Thomas will not believe until he sees. What they received, he, too, will receive. As will we, who—like Thomas—were not initially in that room. The history of art obscures this important point.
Here are two safe things we can say and accept as true. The risen Lord continues to disclose himself with signs. And, the Lord reveals himself in community, and always for the sake of his community. For his community is fellowship within the new covenant of reconciliation. As John writes in his first Epistle, “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us.” Fellowship with this community, is fellowship in and with the Risen Lord.
James He Qi, The Doubt of St. Thomas (He Qi © 2014 All Rights Reserved); used with permission. I think of it as portraying the community faith of Thomas. See John 20:19-31, and 1 John 1:1-2:2. Click here for a link to my Sunday homily, which explores the impact of the resurrection upon the disciples.