Unless I See the Mark of the Nails in His Hands. . .
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
When Jesus heard of Lazarus's illness, he was shaken. He loved Lazarus. Lazarus was from Bethsaida and the brother of Mary, the woman who had anointed Jesus with oil and had dried his feet with her hair. According to John, upon hearing the news of Lazarus's illness, Jesus remained where he was for two days, after which time he decided to go back to Judea to attend to Lazarus.
For Jesus, aware of Lazarus's death, their trip to Judea was for the purposes of resurrecting Lazarus "so that you may believe." For the apostles, the idea sounded more like a suicide mission since Jesus had already been nearly stoned there a short time earlier. Their skepticism was voiced by St. Thomas the Apostle when he uttered what had to have been a sarcastic and disrespectful remark, "Let us go, that we may die with him." Jn. 11:16.
This flippant remark is the first we hear of Thomas, the twin, in the New Testament, but it is emblematic of the three expressions in the Bible he is recorded to have said.
Thomas's second utterance takes place in John 14:5 during the Last Supper. Jesus had just washed the apostles' feet, announced the impending betrayal by Judas, and given the greatest commandment of loving one another as he had loved them. Jesus had also just prophesied Pete's betrayal. There must have been a strong sense that something big was about to happen, which was heightened by Jesus's announcement that he was going to leave to his Father's house and how there would be a place there for them as well when they arrived.
It is at this point that Thomas, insensitively, if not stupidly, asked, "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?"
One can only imagine the frustration Jesus must have felt upon hearing the comment. His apostles, the ones responsible for taking the New Covenant to the world, on the night before his death, were still claiming not to know what he was talking about! Or perhaps Jesus knew that their necessary insight would not develop until after Pentecost. Regardless, Jesus turned the situation into yet another teaching moment when he patiently responded, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Philip, not to be left behind, followed up with, "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us." It is at this point that Jesus finally lets his frustrations show, asking, "Have I been with you for so long time and you still do not know me, Philip?" He continued, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it."
But it is his third and final utterance for which Thomas is most famous. After Jesus's resurrection, while the disciples were cowering in a locked room, fearing for their lives, Jesus appeared to them, exclaiming, "Peace be with you." He came to them that Sunday evening with the express purpose of sending them to the world, as the Father had sent him, and breathed upon them the Holy Spirit. When Thomas heard of what had transpired in his absence, the whole event seemed so unbelievable to him that he arrogantly answered, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail-marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
As we now know, Thomas was in for a great surprise when Jesus appeared to the disciples the following Sunday, this time with Thomas present. It was there that one of the most powerful and telling scenes in the Bible took place when Thomas was humbled by being forced to place his finger in the Lord's hand and his hand in the Lord's punctured side. Thomas's only retort was to famously exclaim, "My Lord and my God!"
But Jesus's reprimand was not finished saying, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Despite Thomas's arrogant start, he turned out to be one of the Lord's greatest fishers of men. Tradition holds that Thomas traveled all the way to northern India, arriving in 52 A.D. where he converted numerous families and set up at least seven churches. Additionally, there are a number of apocryphal works bearing his name. One is the "Gospel of Thomas" depicting the infancy of Jesus Christ. It paints a picture of what modern readers would describe as an immature, hyper-reactive, emotionally unstable, superhuman character with extraordinary powers he cannot control. The Gospel of Thomas, which dates back to the fourth century, reads so unbelievably and is so inconsistent with Jesus's character, that it is impossible to identify any elements of truth within it, making it unhelpful in the understanding our Lord.
The other is the "Acts of Thomas," detailing the life of Thomas while in India in fantastical style. It too is unhelpful because of the exaggerated narrations, although there are a number of accounts within it still upheld within the eastern traditions.
Despite the unreliability of the "Acts of Thomas", appears that the twin did indeed proselytize in India, where he was martyred at St. Thomas Mount in Chennai on July 3, 72. His relics were brought to Ortona in Abruzzo, Italy in 1258 where they still rest at the St Thomas's Basilica. The relics themselves have a remarkable history, having survived the Muslim siege on the city in 1566. The relics also miraculously survived World War II having been coincidentally moved from the Basilica's bell tower just weeks prior its destruction by the liberating Allied Forces.
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Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He served in the Florida House of Representatives. He is the author of numerous books including The Federalist Pages, The Case for Free Market Healthcare, and Coronalessons. He is available for appearances and book signings, and can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com.