Thomas doubted. This was a startling shift for him. Only a short while earlier in Bethany Thomas had urged the other disciples to accompany Jesus to Jerusalem, despite the vicious threats against his life, when Thomas declared, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16). How is it that the apostle who was so confident earlier would say, “I will not believe” (Jn 20:25)?
Thomas got himself into serious trouble when he decided to go off by himself. When the disciples were together in the Upper Room, he “was not with them” (Jn 20:24). Jesus had gathered together a group of disciples, and prayed that they would be a strong collective unit when he prayed that they would be one, and he did not send them out separately but at least two-by-two, yet Thomas decided to separate himself from the group and try to make it on his own. His decision to go off by himself was more than a foolish mistake. It was wrong.
Thomas was guilty of individualism. His main concern was himself and what he wanted to do, not his partners and their welfare. He may also have been guilty of pride, arrogance, or elitism. He may have thought: “I do not need them”; “I am better than them”; “They drag me down and I am better off doing things my way apart from them.” Or he may have been deeply depressed and gone off to pout by himself. His isolation cost him dearly.
When the disciples were fearfully huddled together in the Upper Room, they supported and encouraged each other. When Thomas distanced himself from them, he failed to receive the mutual support and encouragement that he so desperately needed.
The disciples had all sinned during Jesus’ Passion when they deserted their Master, and they were in serious need of forgiveness, and they received special pardon and mercy when Jesus said, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,21). Absent, Thomas missed the chance to be forgiven.
Jesus gave the disciples great joy and new hope when he appeared to them. Thomas remained unaffected because he missed the opportunity to receive these gifts. Next, Jesus gave his disciples their commission when he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21b). Thomas received no such commissioning. Jesus gave the disciples a special blessing when he imparted the Holy Spirit upon them: “Receive the holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22). Thomas was not sealed or confirmed in the Spirit. Jesus empowered his disciples to forgive the sins of others. Thomas received no such mandate. Thomas missed innumerable graces and blessings apart from the others. Absence from the community is a serious blunder with major consequences. Fortunately, Thomas’ problems were quickly resolved when he returned to the community.
Many Catholics make the same mistake as Thomas when they separate themselves from their parish community and try to make it on their own. They go to Mass on Easter Sunday, and then only sporadically or not at all during the spring and summer. They infrequently receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, and are weakly connected to ongoing faith formation or parish festivals and other community building events. It should be no surprise that when it comes to the faith of those who are absent, there would be more doubt. Thomas corrected his mistake when he returned. Easter teaches us that the risen Christ is found in the community of the Church, the Body of Christ, and we need to remain closely connected.