Today’s Gospel is always read on the Second Sunday of Easter. It is the famous Gospel about Thomas not being present when Jesus first appeared.
When he hears reports that Jesus appeared to the apostles and to the women, his immediate response many interpret as doubt. He needs to see Jesus to believe; the others’ reports are not enough. I always point out that this is wrong. His response is not doubt, it is anger.
Thomas does not doubt, he refuses to believe and that is because Jesus should not have died on the cross if he truly was the Messiah. At least that is Thomas’ idea.
Thomas does not just come to believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead after seeing him and putting his finger in his hand and his hand in his side. He also comes to realize that his understanding of the Messiah was too small.
He had his image of who the Messiah should be and the minute Jesus did not match it, specifically when he died on the cross, then he stopped believing. The reference point of his understanding of the Messiah was himself.
Thomas learns that his understanding is wrong and that everything that the Messiah stood for in his own mind was wrong. Why? Because his thinking was too small.
Jesus surprises them with the resurrection appearing in his glorified body. He is showing the Apostles as he did throughout his ministry that they have to think in a new way. They have to realize that they need to expand their understanding and it can only be done with faith. Reason is important but faith and reason give a more accurate picture and allow us to give a more accurate response than just reason or faith alone.
Thomas was working on emotion and reason. Jesus died on the cross something that the messiah should never have done and he won’t believe in him until you prove he resurrected. This is Thomas’ way of thinking.
If his understanding of Jesus is too small then his way of thinking of Jesus’ mission is also too small. The apostles up until the resurrection were thinking politically as were the pharisees and the sanhedrin.
They thought Jesus’ mission was to overthrow the Roman occupiers and re-establish the kingdom in Jerusalem. They were thinking too small.
Now, what is it that Jesus does when he first appears? He breaths on them and gives them the power to forgive sin. This is key.
If the first thing Jesus does is give the apostles the power to forgive sins what is the mission of the Apostles—forgive sins. They are called to preach the Kingdom and lead people to repentance and conversion. That is the prime mission of the Church as well. Our prime mission is to lead people to understand sin and seek the truth in Christ so that they may turn from the deadly reality of sin and to the powerful reality of Christ who is life.
Everything else we do must be secondary to this prime message.
This is the message of all of us.
Why is that important? Look at it this way. In the Earthly way of thinking the Roman Empire prevented the Jews from flourishing, living in peace and becoming a mighty kingdom. So which force is more destructive to the Jews and in fact all of humanity—The might of the Roman Empire or sin? The answer is simple—sin.
The apostles are sent out to turn people from sin which is the most destructive force against humanity. It is even more destructive than the mighty power of the Roman Empire or for that matter the mighty power of the American military.
What was the cause of World War II? Give me all the political teachings you want, at the bottom of it was sin. That means that if you look at the most destructive force of the war—the nuclear bombs, they would not have even existed if it was not for sin. It is the most destructive force.
So when Jesus leads the apostles and eventually Thomas to understand that their prime mission was to convert people from their sins, this is a powerful mission. It is yours as well.
In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1120) teaches: The ordained ministry or ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood. So who has the more powerful mission? You do because the ordained priesthood is all about bringing the sacraments to the baptismal priesthood so that the baptized can live the gospel and change hearts and souls in the marketplace.
What happens when the church is weak? Sin reigns. When the Church is strong Christ reigns. Strong does not mean politically strong. In fact, if we want to be politically strong we become spiritually weak. This is precisely why Jesus had to correct Thomas. The greatest threat to the children of God was not the Romans and their mighty military power, it was sin and still is.
Once Thomas believed and changed his understanding and his vision then he understood that greater mission which will be seen more after Pentecost.
Our prime mission is the saving of souls through conversion of sinners and that means to a whole new understanding of what it means to be human a being. It is an understanding taught through the Holy Spirit and given to us to change the world beginning with hearts, not politics.
Thomas never doubted, he was angry because he did not understand. Once he understood he embraced the mission of Christ and carried it out all the way to what is now called India.