The disciples are “sheltering in place” in the room where they ate the Last Super with Jesus. Of course they are not doing so for fear of a virus or some expected natural disaster. They are simply afraid that the same Jewish and Roman officials who executed their teacher and friend will be coming after them as well. These men are simply being cowards. They even have the doors locked. But this the third day since Jesus was crucified strange things have been happening. That morning Mary Magdalene likely accompanied by Mary the wife of Cleopas came bursting in to tell them that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb and that they had seen a vision of angels who told them that Jesus was risen. When Peter and John went to the tomb to investigate they confirmed what Mary Magdalene had told them. Now Cleopas, himself and another of their friends rushed in excitedly to tell them that they had encountered Jesus on the way to Emmaus and had recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. What did all this mean? Could they believe any of it?
Then it happened. Jesus, Himself, stood in their midst and greeted them with a cry of Shalom, peace! They could not believe their eyes. How did He get into the room? Was He real? Was He just a ghost? No, it really was Jesus in the flesh showing them His five wounds breathing the Holy Spirit on them and giving them a mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I also send you. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them; whose sins you retain are retained.” Jesus said nothing to any of them about how they had run away when He was arrested. Jesus didn’t even tell them how to accomplish that mission. He seemed to know that the Spirit He had given them would guide them on the path to mercy – the great and wondrous Divine gift Jesus had just shown to them. Afterward, according to Luke, He asked them for a piece of fish and ate it in front of them. There could be no doubt, Jesus was there and He was truly alive, only different.
Of course we also hear of how Thomas was missing. He likely had just gone out to get some fresh air as most of us do when we are hunkering down for safety’s sake. Call it cabin fever, being “stir crazy” or whatever, we all know how it feels to be confined and not able to go about as we want. Maybe he was returning after a long walk. We may never know. However, once he was back inside that upper room, his fellow apostles and the other disciples present started excitedly telling him that not only was Jesus risen from the dead but that Thomas had just missed Him. Thomas could simply not believe it. There was simply no way that Jesus could have come back to life. Who could ever believe such thing even if it was attested by the other ten Apostles plus any other disciples like Cleopas who may have been present. It was simply mass hysteria. “I will not believe unless I not only see Him, but am able to touch the wounds in His hands and feet and put my hand into the hole in His side.”
Of course as some of the ancients pointed out, Thomas’ absence was not an accident. Jesus knew he was not there when He had appeared that evening after His Resurrection. Jesus was going to use Thomas’ doubting to make a statement about faith especially about the faith in Christ that countless men and women were going to have. Thus, the next time Jesus came, Thomas was there. “Put your finger in the nail marks in my hands and feet. Put your hand into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
While we always have the image that Thomas probed Jesus’ wounds with his fingers and artists have even depicted the even in that way, the Gospel actually does not confirm this. Instead, it simply gives us Thomas’ reply “My Lord and my God!” Those very words suggest that at this point Thomas may have been practicing a little social distancing from Jesus, falling to his knees in wonder and awe. What Jesus says to Thomas next “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen but believe” of course applies to all us in the future who come to believe in Jesus. Yet, we can easily miss a subtle point about where Thomas’ faith lies. Thomas still does not believe Jesus is risen – He knows it! Jesus is right in front of him obviously a living, bodily presence. Thomas’ exclamation “My Lord and my God!” expresses Thomas’ faith in what he can’t see – Jesus’ Divinity. Through the eyes of faith Thomas sees that Jesus is not just a man who has miraculously come back to life. Instead, Christ is the embodiment of the very God whom Thomas worships and adores. Now Thomas understands the answer Jesus had given him at the Last Supper. Jesus is alone, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
All eleven of the Apostles now knew the full import of why Jesus commissioned them to be His ministers of mercy and reconciliation. All of them now came to understand that only now were they properly prepared to be ministers of mercy, because now they all knew that they had experienced God’s mercy. They all now knew how great sinners they were and how it was only by God’s grace that they had been chosen by Christ and remained His friends even though they deserted Him in His hour of need. Even though only Peter denied Jesus by his words, they all had denied Jesus by their actions. Only John had found the courage to stand near the cross and more than one commentator has speculated that that was only because the Blessed Mother, herself, shamed him into being there. Yet now their sins had been forgiven by the very one they all betrayed and thus they all now knew what it meant to be merciful as God is merciful.