One of Rabbi Yeshua’s original twelve shlikhim (Apostles)
St. Thomas’ Hebrew name, Teom, comes from the Hebrew root ta’am, which means “paired,” or “twin.” Rabbi Yokhanan‘s Gospel sometimes calls him by the Greek nickname Didymus, “twin,” Jn 11:16; 20:24 evidently for his combination of doubt followed by bold belief: “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” Jn 20:25, and eight days later, “My Lord and my God!” Jn 20:28. It brings to mind the father of the possessed child, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mk 9:24.
These pairings are not opposites. At times we struggle to believe. After Rabbi Yeshua‘s Bread of Life discourse, Jn 6:48–59, he asked his shlikhim whether they too would abandon him. Rabbi Kefa spoke for the twelve: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” Jn 6:68–69. Kefa hadn’t the foggiest idea of what Rabbi Yeshua meant, but if he said it Rabbi Kefa and the other shlikhim would struggle to believe it.
Rabbi Teom was certainly a believer during Rabbi Yeshua’s mortal life. When Rabbi Yeshua resolved to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus, he would be only about two miles from Jerusalem. Several of the shlikhim said, “Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jn 11:8. But Rabbi Teom’s love for Rabbi Yeshua was stronger than his fear of death. He told the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” Jn 11:16.
Pope Benedict observes (p. 102), “When the Gospels use the verb ‘to follow,’ it means that where he goes, his disciple must also go.” Ruth had been a Moabitess Ruth 1:22, a descendant of Lot’s pagan son Moab Gen 19:37. She gave perhaps the best description of what it means to follow when she told Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried” Ruth 1:16–17. With these words Ruth was grafted into God’s people Israel, even into the line of Rabbi Yeshua Mt 1:5.
Sometimes when we follow our humble admissions are the most important. During the Last Supper Rabbi Yeshua told his shlikhim, “You know the way where I am going” Jn 14:4. But Thomas replied, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jn 14:5. This gave Rabbi Yeshua the opportunity to say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” Jn 14:6. The Hebrew word for “way” here is halakha, a word related to lekh lekha, “move yourself” Gen 12:1 on an interior journey to holiness. He said it to Rabbi Teom, but he meant it for us all. When we hear it we stand with Rabbi Teom and believe that Rabbi Yeshua is the interior journey to holiness.
Let us return for a moment to Rabbi Teom’s “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” Jn 20:25. At that moment he doubted that Rabbi Yeshua had risen from the tomb but he also taught us an important truth. The most important sign of Rabbi Yeshua’s presence was no longer his face but his wounds, his suffering on the Cross. Rabbi Yeshua‘s crucifixion redeemed us on the Cross Lk 23:43. Rabbi Paul told us, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death Rom 6:3–4.
Thomas finally believed that Rabbi Yeshua had risen from the dead and was our Lord and God because he had seen. Rabbi Yeshua told him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” Jn 20:27. Rabbi Yeshua‘s last words to Thomas were, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” Jn 20:29. Rabbi Paul told us, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Heb 11:1. Some of us need evidence received through our own eyes, but St. Thomas Aquinas made explicit what Rabbi Yeshua had implied: “Those who believe without seeing are more meritorious than those who, seeing, believe.”