Hearing is believing!

The feast of St Thomas – “Doubting Thomas” as he is traditionally known – has come around again in our liturgical calendar, reminding us of the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and the constant challenge that it has been to faith, right from the beginning.  
And it seems that poor Thomas will always be the villain (or semi-villain) of Easter, as Judas was the villain of Holy Week.  But this must be wrong!  Far from being a villain, Thomas is, I will argue, a model of true faith, of what St Paul will later call, “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5 & 16:26).
Reading the account in John’s Gospel (Jn 20:24-29) of Our Lord’s special encounter with Thomas, due to his earlier absence, you might notice the emphasis on what the apostles see, beginning with their informing Thomas that they “have seen the Lord” and ending with those familiar words of Jesus: “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  
Both remarks about “seeing” in this passage are essentially negative or critical.  In the first case, Thomas is unimpressed by his friends’ claim to have seen Jesus alive and demands further proof.  He wants not only to see the holes the nails have made but to put his finger in them and his hand in the wounded side of Jesus.  
For Thomas, seeing is simply not enough, as anyone knows that appearances can be deceptive, and people can fall for illusions, especially when in shock or disoriented, as the apostles are after the crucifixion. 
In the second case, where Jesus blesses those who have not seen, the limits of seeing are obvious; when, shortly, Jesus ascends into heaven, no one will see him “in the flesh,” so to speak, as the apostles can for the present.  
But Jesus doesn’t say what belief will depend on, if not on seeing.  That is the main issue here – on what do we base our belief if we can’t see the Lord, when we can’t touch those wounds as Thomas can?
Looking again at this Gospel, I feel that the missing ingredient is to do with hearing, not seeing!  
What brings Thomas to believe is the voice of Jesus calling him.  In fact, the Lord is commanding (or if that is too strong, inviting) him to believe: “Doubt no longer, but believe” (v.27).
Interestingly, the Gospel reading for the day before this feast-day this year seems remarkably appropriate as a lead into this celebration!  It is the account in Matthew of the calming of the storm at sea (Mt.8:23-7). 
Jesus, at the behest of the disciples, stands and rebukes the wind, bringing calm.  But one can also speak of something happening here at a personal level, where the disciples are experiencing an inner storm of fear and desperation.  
Jesus is calming their stormy hearts by his words.  He is rebuking their fear in rebuking the storm, calling them to faith in him.  That journey across the lake to the other side is the journey from fear to faith and they reach the other side only through the power of the Lord’s command urging both their hearts and the wind to abate: “Be calm, be still!”
So it is that in the encounter with Thomas in the Resurrection story, it is the command of Jesus that calms the storm of the apostle’s unbelief and brings him to the shore, the haven of faith.  Not sight, but hearing, is the key to his coming to faith.
St Paul will bring this out clearly when speaking of the “obedience of faith,” where obedience in biblical terms has to do with listening to God’s word attentively and bringing one’s life into line with his command.
I see in this account a transition from an emphasis on seeing to a primary emphasis on hearing the preaching of the apostles, passing on what they have heard from the Lord’s own lips.  Note also how the account begins with Jesus suddenly appearing through closed doors in the room and speaking to his friends, saying “peace be with you” before he invites him to touch his wounds (v.19).  
And those words are most significant when addressed to men who ran away from the cross when their friend needed them most!
Therefore, I suggest that the core message is that faith comes from hearing more than from seeing; hearing the voice of the Spirit in scripture, in prayer, and in the suffering of creation, to name the primary sources of revelation.
The sceptical Thomas is commanded to believe by the Master, and he responds without any delay, without hesitation: “My Lord and my God.”  
The seeing and the touching are pushed into the background.  They prepare the ground for the essential move to faith, viz. hearing the loving invitation / command of Jesus to trust in him.
Blessed are we who have not seen yet believe in the word addressed to us by the Spirit: “Doubt no longer but believe.
Not seeing, but hearing is believing!
Kieran Cronin OFM