John 20:19-31, Second Sunday of Easter/Feast of Divine Mercy
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Don’t you find that rather rude? I mean, when Thomas’ best friends told him that the Lord was alive, he could’ve just said, “Really?” and left it at that. But no, he had to detail the physical experiment he’d like to do if Jesus ever showed up. Thomas’ words sound to me like this: “I don’t believe any of what you’re saying unless Jesus himself appears to me and proves himself to me, on my terms. Unless that, I don’t believe.” There seems to be something more behind that doubt. It’s not just skepticism. Skepticism is more of the brain. But you can sense that there’s something “heart” behind Thomas’ strange demand for certainty. I bet that doubt is only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath doubt must’ve rumbled very deep disappointment. So in order for Thomas to not be disappointed any more than he already was in Jesus, he demanded certainty.
My maternal grandfather was like that. And I don’t think it was an accident that his name was Tomas, because he doubted all the time. After the war, he and a bunch of our Batangueño relatives upped and took their families all the way to Davao from Batangas. This was at the encouragement of Manuel Quezon’s homesteading program. They were promised that land in Davao would be cheap and easy. But when they got there, it wasn’t true. Land was cheap and easy only for the native Davaoeños. But for the dayo—the Ilocanos, Batangueños, Pampangueños—they had to pay through their noses if they wanted a decent parcel. So my grandfather doubled, tripled his efforts, selling kulambo from a kariton. Through years and years of hard work, he was able to buy a small but decent tract of land. He planted rice and coconut for copra. And his life slowly rose to the comfort that he had only dreamed of ever enjoying, once upon a time.
But my grandfather’s ascent from poverty didn’t come without a price. By the time I was born and had my wits about me, he had long become the fearsome, angry man that he was; and he doubted pretty much everyone. He doubted anybody’s opinion but his own, doubted motives, doubted intentions, especially about business and money. He never went to Church (I guess he doubted God, too.) Incidentally, he owned a pistol which he would put on the dining table before he slept at night (I guess he doubted his own sense of safety.) For some strange reason, my grandmother was also like that, as angry and as loud as lolo, as doubtful and as opinionated. I wondered why these old people thrived on a regular diet of anger and doubt. Only years thereafter did I realize that they were driven to never be painfully disappointed again by empty promises, promises upon which they lay their hopes, and the lives of their entire family.
When the Lord was still going all over Galilee with his friends, teaching, healing, forgiving—Thomas must have seen such promise in him. Seeing the power that issued from Jesus, Thomas must’ve thought, “Tsk, this guy is the real thing. I can lay my hopes on him, this Messiah, the invincible.” But…in one afternoon, they nailed Jesus to a cross, and the man didn’t even put up a fight, not even run away with his friends, not even flinch to save himself with a miracle. The disappointment in Thomas must’ve known no bounds. It’s better said in Tagalog: Nagtampo si Tomas, isang malalim na pagtatampo sa Panginoon.
On the first Easter day, Jesus appears to his friends. And the first word that comes out of the his mouth is, “Shalom,”, peace! If you think about it, Jesus has all the right to make tampo, to be deeply disappointed with his friends, even angry with them for their cowardice. But, no; the first thing he gives them is his shalom. And the Lord turns to Thomas and reads his mind, no, reads his heart. He greets him, “Shalom.” And there is this painting by Caravaggio, depicting Thomas probing Jesus’ side-wound with his finger—and Caravaggio was being totally superfluous. Because no such thing happened. When Thomas lays his eyes on Jesus, the Lord’s very presence erased any further requisite for evidence. “My Lord and my God,” Thomas says. The Lord’s presence heals his tampo. The Lord’s shalom quenches his thirst, overturns his disappointment, forgives his doubt. “Do you believe because you see, Thomas? Blessed are those who have not seen, and still believe.”
Do you hear the Easter message in that, dear sisters and brothers? Jesus the Savior is infinitely greater than our darkest doubts and deepest disappointments about him. Even if the whole world doubts him, that will make him any less the Savior that he is, nor will it make him any less interested in saving the world. Were the Lord’s love totally dependent on our belief and love for him, then long must he have thrown up his arms and stopped loving us. No. Jesus saves us not so much because we believe and love him greatly, because we don’t, not greatly enough. He saves us because his love is far more encompassing than our doubts and disappointments and sins. That is the Easter message, dear sisters and brothers: there’s absolutely nothing we can or cannot do, will or will not believe—that will make Jesus stop saving and loving us.