See here, Thomas

Doubting+Thomas

I’m anxious to chat with St. Thomas someday. Besides the name, we have other things in common, ‘doubt’ for instance. And if the tradition of him is accurate, we were both also missionaries in cultures very different than our own.

I love this painting by Caravaggio (16th cent). Thomas the ‘doubter’. Jesus (Jn 20.27) says to him, “Put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” There are several directions in which one could take this. Today I’m thinking about the nature of the resurrected body (something Paul discusses in 1Cor 15).

Start with what should be an uncontroversial statement: The resurrected Jesus is the Eschaton. He is what we shall be. His body is the only created reality that is already on the other side of death in its fulfilled, glorified state. And when we see him we shall be like him. And yet here in Jn 20 Jesus’ body bears its “wounds” for Thomas to inspect. A glorified, perfected, immortal body that bears the wounds of mortality? Resurrected perfection makes the lame walk and the blind see but it cannot heal scar tissue?

Hear me out. I don’t think this passage is evidence that Jesus’ “wounds” endure the way most people are likely to read the story of Thomas. Consider the possibility that Jesus presents his risen embodied self to Thomas in a way Thomas required, in a manner determined by Thomas. He doesn’t believe. Why? He can’t get past the Cross. The Cross is speaking the “last word” for Thomas. Jesus really did die. Thomas needs to see the Cross in the resurrected Jesus so Thomas’ faith can connect the real world he lives in to the real God in whom the world lives. That moment opens his capacity for faith to embracing the resurrection. Jesus is happy to manifest himself in a way Thomas requires, but I don’t think Jesus’ resurrected body permanently bears the wounds of death – holes in his hands and side, scar tissue down his back from flogging. (Folks will not hobble around or limp when perfected in God’s presence.) I think we (in part) determine what it is we see, and I suspect that when his faith finally rested secure, there were no holes for Thomas to see.

Just a thought.

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3 comments on “See here, Thomas

  1. I think the Emmaus story in Luke supports your idea that the risen Lord seems able to adapt his manner of appearance to accommodate the level of understanding and acceptance he encounters.

    Thomas misses the first appearance of Jesus, whereas Luke’s story gives us two disciples who actually miss (at first) an appearance made to themselves. All three are very much in the condition you suggest, of being unable “to get past the cross.”

    (And forget that ‘hoodie’ in which the Sunday School illustrators depict the Emmaus Jesus – is that biblical?) In fact, we don’t actually know the manner of his manifestation on the Emmaus road; only that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” until they catch something special in the way he breaks bread – and then he vanishes. Well then…

    So I think there is enough of this kind of ‘invisibility’ in the resurrection stories (passing through doors, etc.) to warrant a firm belief in the spiritual resurrection of the Lord (against the dogma of the resurrected mortally wounded body). And I perceive that is why you mention 1Cor15. The incorruptible does not put on corruption, but immortal incorruption.

    I am fine with your idea of accommodation, because that is what spirit beings sometimes have to do to establish identity with mortal minds. Do we think God actually is a burning bush, or do we recognize that Moses saw in the wilderness some great brightness of light and no smoke of combustion?

    I’m not fully on board with the idea that this accommodation went so far as manifesting wounded flesh to doubters. Look at Paul, who as Saul had first to get past the ignominy of the cross before accepting Jesus. I am sure he saw something greater and brighter than a wounded man, when he was dismounted on the way to Damascus.

    Are you saying that one may yet be justified by faith in a ‘material’ resurrection or corrupted flesh, in order that he may not lose the prize?

    Like

    • Tom says:

      Hi John,

      I’m trying to suggest that the risen Christ is free to manifest his embodied state in ways appropriate to the mortal contexts he has to accommodate. Paul didn’t know Jesus personally. Thomas did. That might account for the unique wounds Thomas is invited to inspect but which are not a necessary part of Paul’s conversation. My guess is God didn’t think Paul needed the accommodation that Thomas required.

      Jesus’ resurrected body bore the marks of crucifixion for Thomas and those present. So I have two seemingly incompatible things: the resurrected body of Jesus bears the scars of crucifixion (to Thomas), on the one hand, and good reason to think that resurrected/glorified bodies are utterly and completely healed of the scars of their mortal injuries, on the other hand. I don’t doubt either of these, so I have to account for the scars. My hunch is that those scars are a freely chosen form in which the risen Christ manifests himself given the state of Thomas’ faith and not a definitive feature of the immortal body per se. And that in turn suggests that ‘what we see’ is always to some extent the result of ‘what we believe’.

      Tom

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom, I didn’t thank you properly for writing such a thought-provoking piece, one which very nicely reconciles two different yet scriptural ideas regarding our Lord’s resurrection body.

        Some weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend in which I used 1Cor15 to question ‘the meat’ of the Thomas story on the grounds that the risen Jesus, unlike Lazarus, could not simply have been raised from the dead as a mortal man of corruptible flesh, but must be in a higher, incorruptible state, one which would not hamper his eventual ‘going to the Father’.

        While I am not yet reconciled to the necessity of the risen Lord accommodating the demand of Thomas, it would be difficult to justify a textual version of the story without the ‘offending parts.’ But I will offer your idea to my friend as a compromise the next chance I get.

        Liked by 1 person

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