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Doubting Doubting Thomas

The traditional interpretation of the Thomas incident should be questioned. I don't think it is a negative at all, but a positive. The mistake is partly in the translation, but mostly in how we have been taught to read Scripture: like Protestants, instead of like catholics.

An Interpretation of John 20:24-28

24 Now Thomas, on of the Twelve, known as 'the Twin' was not with them when Jesus came.

Interpretation: Already we should be asking questions. Why was Thomas not there? The reason per se does not matter. But that John is setting up the story (by the Spirit's inspiration to be sure) for his particular purposes; to teach the church an abiding truth; the one that will unfold between here and verse 31.

25 Therefore the other disciples said (impf verb) to him, "We see (pf verb) the Lord." And he said to them, 'Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails; and place my hand into his his side, I will not believe."

Intepretation: What to make of the imperfect verb? Here it could indicate intensity, or iteration, or even customary telling, i.e. "the other disciples would say to him". Whatever choice is made affects the account. More monumental, however, is the perfect tense, "We have seen, and still see, the Lord." What is the intent of St. John the Theologian in this (and his many other uses of the perfect tense)?

I term such usage the "sacramental perfect." Not that there is such a thing in Greek, but for theological purposes I have dubbed it so. And in keeping with the Greek perfect (an event that occurred in past time which is still, or whose effects are still, in force at the present - thought the event itself may well be over). I understand such uses to indicate that: what then occurred, what was was then said and what was then believed, is now, still, presently, the church's reality. Temporally speaking the events of the Lord's death and resurrection are in the past. But they are ever present for the church, in the church.

Thus "We have seen, and still presently see the Lord." Or "We are seeing the Lord." or "We behold the Lord." Think: Real Presence.

What did Thomas doubt? He doubted a Jesus without wounds. But how did Thomas know about those five wounds? It's not important to the story. But what is important is the construction of the story. One which, by the Spirit's inspiration, was revealed to John in such a way that he might teach the church the necessity, and indispensibility of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.

26. Eight days later his disciples were again inside and Thomas with them; Jesus came though the doors were locked (perfect verb) and stood in their midst, and said to them, Peace!

Interpretation: In building the scheme of the story we have a repeat of the events of one week earlier. The Lord's Day, the Day of Assembly, is called "the eighth day." This is the Day that the church meets with her Christ.

Only now Thomas is with them. What we read here factually occurred. But with John's gospel one can never stop once he has read the data. But he must mine the data to discover all of what is being taught here. For Scripture should never be read as mere reportage.

All men are Thomas. And if they wish to see the crucified and risen Christ, the Christ by whose blood, water and Spirit (1 John 5:8ff) we obtain remission of sins, and Peace with God, then we must also enter the Apostolic church on the 8th Day; the Assembly of the First Born. (Heb. 12:25)

27 Then he said to Thomas, "place your finger here, and see my hands; and bring your hand and plunge it into my side; and don't be faithless, but faithful!

Interpretation: As I read this I fail to see the traditional rebuke which, I suggest, exists more in an echo chamber, than in fact. Thomas was not about to believe mere verbal reports, even if they came from his fellows. But he wanted to experience Jesus with his senses. The church concurs.

It is an impoverished Protestant theology that relies on preaching and bible study as comprising the entire Christian worship experience: while contumaciously rejecting Baptism and the Eucharist. The church catholic, on the other hand, does what Thomas did. We touch Jesus. We communicate with his wounds, and obtain the endless blessings they impart to sinners. We do so in baptism and the Eucharist.

Nor should we translate "apistos" and "pistos" as "unbelieving" and "believing." But rather as "unfaithful" and "faithful."

The "unfaithful" are those who are outside the Body, the "soma" of Christ, as Thomas was until now. Those who are not baptized, and who have not participated in the flesh of Jesus among the Assembly of the Firstborn like Thomas now does.

The "faithful" on the other hand, are those who are part of the One Body, who are baptized, and who eat the New Testament together. Those who participate in the New Pascha, who are marked with the blood, guarded by the Spirit and are friends of the Christ.

On this night Thomas enjoyed sacramental, incarnational congress with Jesus. And I take this episode to be as much about baptism, as about the Eucharist.

At the end of the day, then, we should hear these words of Jesus "be pistos" not as a rebuke, but as a benediction to the now baptized and Eucharistized Thomas. As indicative of what Thomas now is become by this sacramental encounter.

Thus we can interpret Revelation 2:10 in the same manner. "Be pistos unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." That is, remain in your baptism, which is accmplished by remaining in Christ, in his glorious and glorified wounds, in the Eucharist.

28 Thomas answered, and said to him, "My Lord and my God."

Intepretation: Thomas now responds to what this New Man cannot help but respond. Though there is no proof, I don't think we would be wrong to imagine that this formula "My Lord and my God" became a liturgical response to Baptism and / or the Eucharist in the diocese where John's Gospel originally held sway.

29 Jesus said to him, "Because you see (perfect verb) you believe (perfect verb). Blessed are those who don't see, and believe."

Interpretation: Here, again, we do well to step out of the echo chamber. In order to do this we must first understand that the Jesus we encounter before the Resurrection, is very different from the post-resurrection Jesus. Not in person. "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever." (Heb. 13:5) But in form.

After the resurrection time, and space, lose their meaning in the gospels. Just so the "form" of Jesus. He eats on the seashore to prove he is not a ghost, yet he passes through locked doors as if he were. All this to say that post resurrection we are dealing with the Lord's glorified body. It is now seen, now vanished from sight. This is what is at play here (even as at Emmaus). There is no rebuke here. Thomas is blessed, and believes because he sees the glorified Christ. Equally blessed (not more blessed or less blessed) are those who have not seen what Thomas sees, the glorified Jesus.

But who none the less see what Thomas saw in their baptism, and the church's Eucharistic gathering. This is what we learn from this account. And from its parallel at Emmaus. There, too, the resurrected Jesus appears, is unrecognized, and disappears. But what is of supreme importance is Luke's teaching that Jesus was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. Which is Luke's technical term for the Mass. (Luke 24:35)

Thus, if a person wants to know the crucified and resurrected Lord who pardons our sins, and gives us the gift of divine life, then he must come to them through the Word and the Sacraments. Both are vital. For as the Sacraments mean nothing without the Word of Scripture; even so Scripture is futile without the Sacraments.

Any religion that glorifies one over the other; or excludes one in favor of the other, is mistaken to say the least. Thus those religious groups that have contempt for the Sacraments; or teach that they are symbolic only; live well below the spiritual poverty line. They refuse to recognize the Manna dropped into their laps, or feed it to their children, who ask for an egg, and they are given a scorpian instead. (Luke 11:12)