Summary: In the lives and work of St. Thomas, Pope St. John, and Pope St. John Paul, we can see the operation of the Divine Mercy coming from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Divine Mercy Sunday 2014
Canonization of Two Popes
In the first century, there were no printing presses, no typewriters, no word processors, no i-pads, and, in the Holy Land and Rome, no cheap paper. If a literate person wanted to read, he picked up a scroll of papyrus, or parchment, and almost certainly did so in what we call a library. If a scribe wanted to write, he found the papyrus was expensive, so he economized on his words, and omitted anything he could–like vowels and commonplace phrases that readers would automatically insert. Anything we find written in the Scriptures, therefore, is intentional and important.
Today’s Gospel passage, long cherished by the Church as evidence of the early acceptance by the Church of the divinity of Jesus, calls Thomas by another name, didymos, (Äßäõìïò), or “the twin.” Three times in John’s Gospel we see this nickname added after Thomas is introduced. We can’t be certain why this was important to the early Church, but scholarship gives us some tools for a reasonable guess. Thomas’s identity was nuanced every day by being aware of or reminded of his twin brother. Meditating on this smaller reality of the first-century Church may be helpful in our own spiritual development.
Thomas is mentioned just once in Matthew, Mark and Luke, when each of the writers lists the Twelve apostles. But in St. John’s Gospel, we hear Thomas on four occasions: First, when Jesus announces that He is going to risk a trip to Judea, and almost certain death at the hands of the authorities, in order to raise Lazarus from the dead, Thomas boldly tells the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” At the Last Supper, when Jesus tells his disciples that He must go to prepare an eternal place for them, He adds, “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas, confused, asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus answers with a reply we have all memorized: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”
The third appearance in John’s Gospel by Thomas is in the passage we have just heard. His final appearance is a non-speaking part. Back in Galilee, and out of Christ’s presence, Simon Peter announces that he’s going to spend the night fishing, and Thomas is with him, Nathaniel and two others. They catch nothing until Jesus appears to direct their nets, and then they catch so many fish they can’t haul them into the boat.
In Jewish culture, the birth of twins was what one scholar calls “a major threat to social order and concord,” since the firstborn inherited from the father. We recall the two sets of twins mentioned in the OT. Jacob, or Israel, was father of the Jewish people, and was in constant contention with his ten-minutes older brother, Esau, father of the Edomites. Perez and Zerah were the offspring of Judah. Perez was the ancestor of David, who brought all of Israel under his control. So it was expected in Israel that twins, when born, would differ greatly from each other and would have a lifetime of fraternal struggle.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and, using the very little evidence we have, speculate that Thomas was the younger twin, since that became his nickname. As such, Thomas was the less favored brother. Jesus had a habit of choosing His apostles from the less accepted members of Jewish society. Fishermen were all in the lower class. Matthew, the tax collector, was shunned by everyone. So we might expect Thomas to have been the “runt of the litter.” As such, he had a hard life, and probably suffered many disappointments. He was always in his elder brother’s shadow, never able to grasp the gold ring, until He met Jesus, the Messianic fellow who had promised the two things Thomas really wanted: union with God through forgiveness of sin.
Now why was Thomas not with the other apostles on that first Easter? We don’t know. Maybe he was so discouraged by Jesus’ execution that he just went home to Galilee. Perhaps he gave up and wandered the Judean hills, or lodged with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. But when he finally came back to the handful of disciples, he heard what was impossible: Jesus had risen as He promised, had appeared to the disciples, and had given them the power to forgive sins. Thomas demurred, and set a rash test, something no ghost or corporate hallucination could provide–to physically touch the wounds in Christ’s body. When Jesus made that possible, he fell to his knees and confessed, as Peter had many months earlier, that Jesus was indeed both Lord, Messiah, and the very Son of God.