“The Incredulity of St. Thomas”
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
29th September 1571–18th July 1610
Caravaggio was an Italian painter active in Rome for most of his artistic life. During the final four years of his life he moved between Naples, Malta and Sicily. His paintings combine an acute observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting that came to be known as ‘tenebrism’. This technique, with darkening shadows and transfixing subjects of the painting in bright shafts of light, was to have a formative influence on Baroque School of Painting.
In his paintings, Caravaggio vividly expressed crucial moments and scenes, often featuring violent struggles, torture, and death. He worked rapidly, with live models, preferring to forgo drawings and work directly onto the canvas. His influence on the new Baroque style was profound. It can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt. Artists in the following generation who fell heavily under his influence were called the “Caravaggisti” (or “Caravagesques”), as well as “Tenebrists” or “Tenebrosi” (“Shadowists”).
19 “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’. 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’. 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord’. But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe’.
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’. 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe’. 28 Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’. 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”.
Most scholars affirm that Chapter 20 was originally the last Chapter of the Gospel of John. The following Chapter was later added to include the episode of Jesus confirming Peter as his successor, and again of Peter reiterating his love and fidelity for Jesus. The Easter joy apparent in Chapter 20 is a foretaste for the last encounter of the Risen Lord with Peter and the other Disciples in the final Chapter.
Jesus appeared to the fearful Disciples, still gathered in the Upper Room for fear of the Jews, and said to them “Peace be with you”. The appearance of the Lord as they are gathered together, although Thomas was not with them at that moment, gives them enormous joy, and prepares their hearts to receive the mandate of the Risen Lord to go and announce the Good News. He is alive. From this confidence, the fearful Disciples will go to the four corners of the world to announce their faith and conviction in his Resurrection. Jesus is alive and is the Messiah and Saviour of all peoples and of all times.
Go and proclaim the Good News that Jesus is alive
From being terrified that the Jews would arrest them, Jesus arrives and greets them with these beautiful words “Peace be with you”, or in other words, ‘May God give you every good thing’. He then gives them the mandate “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you”.
· We go out as a community of believers, as a Church. The Church acts as the voice for Jesus, and so Jesus needs each one of us to speak on his behalf.
· The Church needs Jesus, too. ‘No Jesus; no Church’.
· As Jesus is sent by the Father, we are sent by Jesus.
Thomas is convinced
It would appear that Thomas was a ‘doubter’ by nature and probably thought that the Resurrection of Jesus was ‘too good to be true’. The fact that he was not with the group of Disciples and Mary the Mother of Jesus when the Lord appeared, underlines the truth that we miss a great deal with we are separated from the Community. When Thomas finally saw the Risen Lord, he gave a beautiful ‘Credo’: My Lord and my God’. The unbelief of Thomas gives us the wonderful opportunity to hear Jesus saying: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”.
That you may believe
No passage in the Four Gospels better sums up the aim of the Evangelists:
a) It is quite clear that the Gospels never set out to give a full account of the life of Jesus, but rather a selection of events which show who Jesus was and the work He undertook (preaching, teaching and healing).
b) It is also clear that the Gospels were not meant to be biographies of Jesus, but written accounts that urge readers to take him as their Saviour, Master and Lord. The aim was not to give only information, but to give life. We should therefore not approach the Gospel as mere sources of the information but as believers seeking a living God.
We proclaim the triumph of Jesus over death, which begins with the Cross and ends in his Resurrection, when we, like Thomas, say: “My Lord and my God”. When we profess this ‘Credo’ we are no longer proclaiming our faith only as individuals, but as a believing community that has experienced Jesus as a living God. We are sent out to be missionaries of peace and forgiveness. We, like the Apostles, from being a group of frightened individuals hiding in the Upper Room are transformed into bold messengers of God’s love and mercy for all without exception.
Dear Loving and Compassionate God, Giver of all gifts, we pray especially today for the mercy and love You give us. Open our hearts and minds to You. Give us the grace to accept your mercy. As we live each day, we pray for those less fortunate,
especially those who are hurting, and whose wounds need to be healed. Help us become involved in ways that show them how deeply we care. Give us the courage to listen to their concerns,
and help them find the solutions they deserve
as Your children and as our brothers and sisters. Amen.
Peace was the first gift of the Risen Christ to his Disciples. How do we experience the peace of Christ in our lives and in the life of our family and Church Community?
The words of the Risen Christ are not only addressed to the group of Disciples present in the Upper Room after the death of Jesus … Jesus speaks of “those who believe in Him without having seen him”. We have received the gift of Faith freely, what difference does it make in our lives?
We believe because someone has spoken to us about the Resurrection of Christ. What am I doing to make sure that the light of Faith that I have received does not die with me but lives on in others?
Thomas made a clear and explicit expression of faith in Jesus. How would we describe our personal encounter with Him who is our Lord and God?
Thomas’ profession of faith occurred when he ‘returned’ to the group of Disciples. What is our Christian Community doing to welcome those who have strayed from the Way.