Thomas, who initially refused point blank to accept the fact of the Resurrection, is very much a saint for our time.
With St Peter, he appears as the most human of the Apostles. In fact the two of them resemble each other in several ways: in their spontaneously generous enthusiasm, in their failures of understanding, and in the final, enduring triumph of their faith.
Mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels only as one of the Twelve, Thomas is far more prominent in St John, where he is also given the name Didymus, Greek for “twin”. Since in Aramaic tau’ma also means “twin”, Thomas Didymus is a tautology. His other half has been lost to history, though there has been wild speculation that he might have been St Matthew.
In John 11, when the disciples are wary of the dangers of returning with Jesus to hostile Judaea, Thomas warms the heart with his gloriously carefree declaration of loyalty: “Let us go too, and be killed along with Him.”
Later, in John 14, when Jesus speaks of going away to prepare a home for his followers, Thomas clearly does not comprehend – but which of us would have done? – what He is talking about.
“But, Lord, we do not know where Thou art going,” he blurts out “how are we to know the way there?” Nor, perhaps, was he greatly enlightened by Jesus’s reply: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Again, if we put ourselves into Thomas’s place, what could be more understandable than his doubts about reports of the Resurrection? “Until I have seen the marks of the nails on his hands, until I have put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, you will never make me believe” (Jn 20:25).
Eight days later, in the locked room in Jerusalem, Thomas was granted the proof he had demanded. “Let me have thy finger,” Jesus tells him. “See, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe.”
Who among us, though, would have been capable of surrendering to the miracle with Thomas’s magnificently unadorned simplicity?
“Thou art my Lord and my God,” he declared.
“And Jesus said to him, Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe.” (Jn 20: 26-28).
In that implied rebuke lies the challenge of Christianity.
According to one tradition Thomas subsequently preached in Parthia (the north-east of modern Iran). According to another, he journeyed to India, and was martyred at Mylapore, near Madras.
Much more importantly, though, he lives eternally in that moment of humbled witness to the reality of the Resurrection.