April 12, 2021
Yesterday’s gospel shared the familiar story of “Doubting Thomas” from John 20:19-31. The following is a homily I delivered on that same gospel last year (2020).
I hope you don’t mind, but today’s homily is based on a “dumb question.” I listened to a podcast earlier this week. The podcast is called, All Set for Sunday and is geared toward parents of young children. It offers such parents an opportunity to reflect on the readings for the upcoming Sunday ahead of time, understanding that their babies and toddlers may draw their attention elsewhere during Mass. The podcast includes back and forth informal discussion between the two hosts and questions directed to a guest priest. The two young men acting as the hosts are friends of mine and have asked me to listen to several trial episodes and offer feedback so they can do some fine-tuning prior to the official launch of the podcast.
Back to the dumb question. During the course of the podcast, Jeff asked Fr. Tim why the gospel tells us that Thomas was also called Didymus. The gospel reads: Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
Jeff prefaced the question by saying it was dumb, Fr. Tim acknowledged it was dumb, and then after a quick laugh they moved on, leaving the dumb question unanswered.
Fast forward to my preparation for today’s homily. Sure enough, as I pored over the readings, I couldn’t get the dumb Didymus question out of my head. Ultimately, I decided that no question was too dumb for me, and the research began.
Was Didymus a nickname that gave us some sort of insight into the type of person Thomas was – for instance, was Didymus a Greek word meaning one who doubts? Or was it an ironic nickname, like a really tall man with the nickname “Shorty”? So maybe Didymus meant naïve, someone that believed everything.
No, the name Thomas is derived from the Aramaic teoma and the Hebrew te’om, both translating to “twin”. The equivalent word for twin in Greek is Didymus.
While this is linguistically interesting, it does not explain why it was important enough for John to include it in his gospel. After all, he does not share the origin of the other Apostles’ names.
I can only conclude that the word twin adds significance to the gospel story or has specific meaning for us. Otherwise, why would it be included?
There was some speculation and there were a few random guesses, but there does not appear to be any definitive evidence proving that Thomas himself was a twin. I needed to go in another direction. Therefore, I decided to learn more about the science of twins.
While most sets of twins are not identical, they are certainly alike in many ways outside of biology. Each has a unique personality, but research shows that twins have an undeniable bond. Psychologically, they often feel what the other twin feels and share a deep empathy; they generally share the same type of thoughts and experiences; and they may even mirror the interests and actions of the other.
With that in mind, I settled on the idea that the “missing twin” was me – was us. We are Thomas’ twin. We are Didymus.
We, too, doubt what we cannot see or fully understand. We, too, struggle to be all in and to commit fully to Christ without empirical proof. We, like Thomas, struggle in our faith.
History tends to point fingers at Thomas, singling him out as the lone non-believer. He was given the infamous “Doubting Thomas” label. He was the one who had questions, had doubts, demanded proof – while all of the “good and obedient” disciples accepted the fact that Jesus was alive. Of course they believed! They had proof; they had already seen the risen Jesus with their own eyes. How could they doubt what was right in front of them?
Thomas did not doubt because he was a lesser disciple. He doubted because he was not there to experience Jesus firsthand. In the gospel, we heard Jesus tell Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” He was not saying, “All of the other apostles are blessed and you are not” or “You were wrong to doubt.” Jesus was simply pointing Thomas, and all followers of Christ, toward an unwavering faith. Our goal should be to believe without reservation and to trust without hesitation.
Like a twin, we have an undeniable bond with Thomas. Psychologically, we can empathize with him. We generally have the same types of thoughts and experiences and may even mirror his actions. We are “Doubting Didymuses.” (or perhaps the plural is Didymi)
Given our current circumstances, many of us may be doubting that Jesus is truly alive right now. We may be questioning our faith. We are closed up in our homes. There is illness and death; anxiety, fear, and depression; financial hardship and loss of hope.
However, Jesus calls us to fight through the doubt and work toward that unwavering faith. He calls us to trust. That is why the five of us are here this morning – to answer that call. That’s why all of you are inside of that iPad – you are hungry. You are here in spite of your doubts. You’re pushing through those doubts and relying on your faith. You are putting your trust in Jesus.
I am going to date myself here, but there used to be radio program called, The Rest of the Story, hosted by Paul Harvey. He would share a news story, then offer some additional insight that gave us a new perspective on the story.
In John’s gospel, we only hear that Thomas doubted.
Here is the “rest of the story”: Fighting through his doubt and confident that he was not a lesser disciple because of that doubt, Thomas tirelessly proclaimed the good news. As a matter of fact, he traveled further in his evangelization efforts than any other apostle, preaching his way from Jerusalem all the way to the southern tip of India – a distance of nearly 5,000 miles.
He successfully converted thousands to Christianity, enduring unrelenting hardships along the way. Ultimately, he died for his faith, martyred by Hindu leaders in southeastern India.
His journey as an apostle of Christ and his eventual martyrdom bring to life the words we heard in today’s second reading: “…you may have to suffer through various trials, so that your faith, though tested by fire, may prove to be for the praise, glory, and honor of Jesus Christ.”
How will his twin, Didymus, respond? At this uncertain time, we may be experiencing anxiety, fear or doubt. We are called to channel the energy of those feelings into acts of faith and trust. We are called to pray more, serve more, and love more. We are called to live joyfully and confidently, so that others can draw hope from us. We are called to trust.
We are not lesser disciples because of our doubt; we are empowered by it. We stand on the shoulders of previous apostles that experienced the same uncertainty. We are twins with Thomas not only in our doubt, but in our mission as well.
Like Thomas, we are being tested by fire. May our faith prove to be for the praise, glory and honor of Jesus Christ.