Non-Christians have a lot in common with my saintly namesake, St. Thomas—the Doubter. Even he converted to all-in Christianity reluctantly, as we read in this Sunday’s gospel account. It took the risen Christ himself to accomplish that hands-on conversion. Thomas had to get his hands on Jesus’s formerly mortal wounds to buy into this concept of rising from the dead.
There are still many Doubting Thomases 2,000 years later—Christians and non-Christians. In this age of technological and medical wonders it’s hard for many to believe in God-inspired miracles. It would take Jesus himself to offer another hands-in-wounds opportunity to fire up their faith. Many great faiths have evolved over the centuries, but faith in the risen Christ is what makes true Christianity unique. Islam and Judaism are great faiths, but they don’t have great faith in Christ’s divinity. Will they therefore share in the salvation Christians expect on the last day?
Pope Francis thinks so. In his book, “The Joy of the Gospel,” he writes:
“Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God,’ and thus be ‘associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ.’ … The same spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony.”
Judging by this Sunday’s first reading from Acts, the first Christians didn’t need to be hands-on with Jesus after his rising in order to believe. They saw him everywhere—in each other:
“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. … Those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.”
These souls were one in spirit thanks to the “acts of those apostles.”
Thank God for the apostles’ acts—even those they weren’t proud of. Maybe especially those. Their denials of Christ turned into the most potent lessons for Christians and non-Christians centuries later. Thomas’s disbelief, Peter’s three denials, even Judas’s betrayal—which ultimately set Christianity in motion—Jesus forgave them all (although Judas couldn’t forgive himself and therefore condemned himself). Forgiveness was Christ’s final act from the cross, and became Christianity’s first act. Whether or not you believe in the survival of the physical body of Christ, just perpetuating his acts keeps the mystical body of Jesus alive and well. Believe it, my fellow Thomas.