Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle

Caravaggio’s painting of Thomas placing his hands into Jesus’s wounds is perhaps the best-known version of the scene that plays out in today’s gospel. In this painting, there is a detail that is worth considering: Jesus’s hands. In the painting, Jesus does not simply stand there passively as Thomas pokes about His body. Instead, Jesus takes His hands, and with one pulls open His robe, and with the other, guides Thomas’s hand into the wound. The hands in the picture are not uncertain or weak, but have a firm grasp. Jesus does not open His robe reluctantly, but clearly. Thomas’s hand is not taken lightly, but with great strength and determination. Jesus has chosen Thomas as an apostle, and is completely determined to do all that is necessary to show Thomas what he needs to see in order to be an effective apostle.

The scene with Thomas is hardly the first time we see such concern and determination by Jesus to form the apostles. A few chapters earlier, in John 15, as Jesus says “I am the vine and you are the branches,” He acknowledges that “without me, you can do nothing” and the need for them to be pruned so that they can truly be His disciples. In an odd way, it is a very comforting thought to hear Jesus say “yes, I know that you are in no way up to the task.” It shows us that He knows our gifts, knows our failings, and knows what He is asking of us when we are sent. He also tells us that our weaknesses now are not the last word in what we are capable of. Jesus and the Father will prune us and shape us until we are the disciples we ought to be. Going back to the image of Caravaggio, we can see (alongside Thomas) what sort of pruning this will be: not half-hearted or reluctant, but firm and strong. God is determined to call us, and determined to make us worthy disciples and apostles. Whatever our failings and weaknesses as Christians, we may always place ourselves with Thomas, and know that God will build us up.

July 3rd, 2013