One of the things that intrigues me about this reading, especially given what I had to say about Mary Magdalene on Sunday, is the contrast between Mary and Thomas. As I’ve mentioned before, very often characters in John’s gospel symbolize or stand for whole groups of people–Nicodemus is the Jew attracted to Jesus but unwilling to make a public commitment; the Samaritan woman perhaps representing the response to the Gospel among the Samaritan community, the beloved disciple perhaps the community in which the gospel is written. So, what about Thomas?
There’s long been speculation in the scholarly community about links between the Gospel of John and gnosticism. Given the key role of Thomas in two places in John, and the existence of a “gnostic” Gospel of Thomas, the theory that Thomas somehow stands for gnostic Christians is almost irresistible. He desires knowledge, asking Jesus, “How can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5) and here he doubts the bodily resurrection, demanding not only to see, but to touch Jesus.
Both Mary Magdalene and Thomas see the Risen Christ. Thomas had asked to see and touch him. Jesus shows him his wounds, and invites him to touch them, but Thomas does not. By contrast, Jesus warned Mary not to touch him; it might more literally mean, “Don’t hold on to me.” But the two made a similar confession: Mary says “I have seen the Lord.” Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!”
In these encounters sight is inadequate. Mary at first doesn’t recognize Jesus. The disciples rejoice after they see his wounds; they were fearful before. And Jesus himself warns them and us, that sight is inadequate, “You have seen and believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” True, deep, lasting faith in the Gospel of John, comes not from seeing the Risen Christ, still less from seeing a miracle or sign. It comes from a relationship with the Risen Christ, an encounter, in which he knows and names us, and we know him (“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” Jn 10:27).