The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (c. 1601-1602)
by Michelangelo Merisi del Caravaggio (1571-1610)
public domain

Easter 2, John 20:19-31

Historical Description:

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (c. 1601-1602) is by artist Michelangelo Merisi del Caravaggio (1571-1610). Caravaggio was a hot-blooded and self-destructive individual whose bad temper was constantly getting him into trouble. However, he endlessly read the Bible and had a desire to realistically depict Biblical events. For this reason his art broke away from the classical world of a perfect humanity, and focused on the realism of human weakness.

This realism comes through very powerfully in his painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.In the background are two of the disciples watching with rapt attention. In the foreground are Jesus and Thomas. Jesus’ hand is guiding Thomas’ wrist into his side. Thomas’ eyes widen with shock, watching his own finger enter the scar formed by a fatal spear only three days ago. Thomas gets to see and feel, without a doubt, Jesus is the risen Lord. But if one looks at Jesus’ eyes, one sees he is the only one in the painting not staring at his wound. Instead, he is focused on grasping Thomas’ wrist, guiding it into his side, and bringing Thomas to belief.

Devotional Reflection:

Focus on the disciples’ eyes in Caravaggio’s painting ‘Doubting Thomas.’ Two of the disciples’ brows are furrowed in concentration as they stare at this scarred spectacle. Thomas’ eyebrows look like they’re about to his the ceiling, as his eyes widen with shock, amazement, and surprise, watching his own finger enter the scar formed by a fatal spear only three days ago. All eyes in the painting are fixed on this miraculous sight.

Or are they? There are three disciples in the painting and three pairs of eyes fixed on Jesus’ side. But there is a fourth pair of eyes, and those are Jesus’ own eyes. Where is Jesus looking? Is he looking down at his side, smirking with smug satisfaction that he has finally proven this know-it-all to be wrong and shown without a doubt he is alive? No. Jesus’ eyes are fixed on his own hand, which is fastened around Thomas’ wrist, guiding his hand to his side. Jesus’ attention is entirely focused on bringing Thomas from doubt to discernment, from unbelief to belief, from a lack of faith to an abundance of faith. Jesus has risen from the dead, but his work is not over. Now he continues his saving mission, to bring faith into the world. Caravaggio’s painting shows a savior who won’t give up on sinners, who won’t be put off by skeptics, who won’t strop trying even when someone says ‘I will never believe!’, who won’t quit until he hears the words ‘My Lord and my God!’

Every week at church, God is reaching out with his hands and giving you faith. He reaches out through his Word and through the Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He reaches out through things you can hear, taste, and touch. The word creates faith in those who hear or read it. After the Lord’s Supper we pray, ‘Now may the true body and true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in the true faith until life everlasting.’ All the way through this service, Christ reaches out with his raw imprinted palms to beckon and rescue you from doubt, as you sing in the hymn ‘These Things Did Thomas Count As Real‘ (LSB 472).

More than that, Christ reaches out through you to beckon your friends and family from doubt.

What does this look like, if say for example you have your unbeliever relative over for a holiday dinner? A knockdown drag-out vicious debate that runs from the time your unbelieving relative enters the house until the short while later when they leave in a hurry? No. Here’s what it looks like: The meal with fmaily is peaceful and friendly. After the meal, you ask your relative to come with you off to a quiet place, and there, you tell them about your concern for their salvation. You tell them about the comfort you have in your life because of Jesus. All the while, you are keeping all of your attention focsued on bringing your unbelieving relative from doubt to faith.

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