Saturday, April 21, 2007

St. Thomas: What He Saw and What He Said

I know, the gospel reading about the Apostle St. Thomas was last Sunday, but this has been bouncing around in my head since last Sunday night as I was sitting in Newark Airport, so here goes.

Last Sunday we heard the famous passage in John's Gospel about St. Thomas' doubt in the Resurrection of Christ. "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." Now, Scripture and Tradition tell us that the only Apostle at the crucifixion was St. John, but the "C.S.I. junkie" in me tells me that St. Thomas was, at the very least, an eyewitness to Jesus' crucifixion. How do I know? Thomas knows where the wounds are on Jesus' body. "Big deal", you say, "Crucifixions were common and any idiot knew where to look for the wounds." For the nail marks, yes, but what St. Thomas mentions specifically is Jesus' side. Remember that most crucified persons died, not from the puncture wounds of the nails, but from suffocation once the soldiers broke their legs. Without the use of his legs, the crucified person was unable to push up in order to get air into his lungs. St. Thomas does not tell the rest of the apostles he wants to see the nail prints and the broken legs made whole again. He knows Jesus' legs were not broken and that his side was stabbed with a spear. That in itself is ironic, since Thomas himself was to be martyred how? By being stabbed with a spear by Brahman priests. But I've digressed.

So Thomas doubts, and the following Sunday, Jesus appears to the eleven again and allows Thomas to "let his fingers do the walking." St. Thomas then utters those famous words, "My Lord and my God." That's what bugged me all day last Sunday. Why does he say both? Don't we use both interchangeably? Isn't Thomas being redundant? Not really.

A "lord" is someone who has power or authority over you. The English use it as a title in their peerage system, going back to the days of feudalism. Even the ecclesial title of Monsignor, translated literally, means "my lord". We all have a bunch of "lords" over us, whether it be our boss at work or someone with power to legislate laws or rules that affect us. "Lord", if we could draw its dynamic, is someone above us reaching downwards.

A "god" is someone you give honor and glory to. Today, sadly, we use the word so often it seems to have lost its power (witnessed by statements like "Clapton is god", or, "I swear to God that's the best cheesecake I've ever eaten!"). We can have lots of gods in our life that we make the center of our worship and adoration. Growing up, my dad had a little Mercedes sportscar that I often joked he loved more than his children. For some people, the object of their devotion, their 'god', is having the right job, or the right look, or the right bank account. In Church circles, clergy go nuts trying to have as much 'face time' with the Bishop as possible (in my previous life in the political world, we used to call those people "velcroids", because they attached themselves to the elected official like pieces of Velcro). If we drew a picture to describe the dynamic of "God", it is us reaching upwards towards another.

Now certainly these words are most especially used when referring to Jesus Christ. But nowadays people aren't not so keen to give Him both titles, as St. Thomas did. Some people will call Jesus "God", but not "Lord". This means He's up there in heaven, but I have no obligation to follow any guidelines or rules that He gives to humanity through the Church (the best example of this is the gang who says, "I'm a spiritual person, but I don't believe in organized religion.") Other people, meanwhile, say that Jesus is "Lord", but not "God". This means He's given us some worthwhile guidelines on how to live our lives, but they're only boundaries (like the foul lines on most sporting fields). Besides, since in their minds Jesus Christ wasn't God, there's going to be no accountability for our actions during our lives on earth. (think of the Calvinist idea of predestination, the Deism idea that God set the world in motion and then left it on its own, or the moral relativists who say, "There's no black or white, only shades of gray" or hold to the "Fundamental Option" theory).

St. Thomas sees the wounds and, St. John tells us in 20:28, "answers" Jesus by giving him both titles. Well, an answer presumes a question was asked, so what was the question? John 20:27 tells us that Jesus said that Thomas should not be faithless, but believing. There is an implied question there that relies on Thomas' free will to reply (much like we saw when the Archangel Gabriel explained to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Messiah, if she would give her consenting "yes"). Seeing the wounds as they were burned into his memory as he watched hidden from a distance, Thomas understands that Jesus has not only power over him, but has earned his adoration. Thus he easily comes call Jesus "My Lord and my God."

So what do you think about in airports?

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