St.Thomas: The Post-Modern Realist
St Thomas the Apostle is often known as Doubting Thomas because he refused initially to believe the reports of the resurrection of the Lord. In today’s gospel reading from St. John (Jn 11:1-45), the raising of Lazarus from the dead, I saw something for the first time about St. Thomas that changed my view of him.
Jesus receives word that his fried Lazarus is seriously ill and prepares to head back to Bethany near Jerusalem. The apostles don’t think this is a good idea because they had just left the area after threats against the Master’s life. Jesus tells his uncomprehending followers that Lazarus is dead, but they are returning to Bethany so that his followers can see Him for who He is. This doesn’t appear to make any sense. It is a pointless suicide mission. Thomas doesn’t doubt. He is quite certain, but he is loyal and will not leave his master. His statement, “Let us go and die with Him,” is not skeptical. It is very certain. It is almost absurd in a 20th century style worthy of an an existentialist play.
In fact, Thomas is the grown up we are supposed to be. Look at the facts. Be reasonable, sensible. You may be willing, out of love, to sacrifice yourself for a great cause or a great love, but you approach it with knowledge, with courage, stoically.
This scene actually creates a set of book ends. The matching scene is the encounter with Jesus after the Resurrection, after Thomas had declared that he wouldn’t believe the reports until he saw Jesus personally. None of the apostles died with Jesus. In fact, at the time of his arrest Jesus told the authorities to take Him but to leave them alone. We all know the story of how they – and all of us – scattered in the night when the Shepherd was struck. Peter follows at some distance only to deny Him three times. John is the only man at the foot of the cross. In His time of need Jesus can count on His mother and a handful of women. All too true – real enough for the followers then and now.
Somehow it is easier to “to go and die with Him.” It sounds noble, altruistic. It is easier to believe in the finality of death than the open endedness that is resurrection. El sentido trágico de la vida – the famous Spanish existentialist manifesto – The meaning of life is tragedy. Yes, I know that is not the more literal translation – the tragic sense of life. The death of Jesus would indeed be the Great Tragedy another one of his great disappointments, another cosmic joke perpetrated on an accidentally occurring Homo sapiens.
As post modern people and followers, we are so overcome with the senseless suffering and death of millions that we claim that we believe. Yet our faith is more of an adolescent, impotent tantrum of defiance, because, in the end the facts are the facts. So, let us go and die with Him.
This is an interesting set up for Palm Sunday and Easter. Of course, this is just what St. John’s Gospel does. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. The challenge to us and to Thomas is to believe in a life beyond tragedy, absurdity, meaninglessness.
Yeah, well, heard that, been there… but it can’t work. It’s foolish. We are all dying. Just be brave about it. It is what it is. Resignation to the inevitable makes sense. Resurrection by our Best Friend who cries in grief and loss for us doesn’t make any sense at all. Or does it?
Image by Robert & Mihaela Vicol – Released to the Public Domain