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Saint Ignatius High School

“Let us also go to die with Him.”

Tom Healey and biblical scholars unpack the deeper meaning behind the quote from Thomas in this Sunday's gospel reading. While its literal meaning and reason may fail our comprehension, we must listen to what our heart is telling us as that is where God is.

The 5th Sunday of Lent

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:12-14

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 130:1-8

Second Reading: Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 8:8-11

Gospel: According to St. John 11:1-45

The four Evangelists make no attempt to give each of the Apostles equal time. It is obvious that Peter is the main focus, followed by the brothers James and John. Leaving aside Judas, the rest of the Twelve either have their Warhol-esque fifteen minutes of fame, or they are merely names on a list – like the players on a roster who never get to see the field.

Somewhere between the Big Three and the AYOs (“All You Others”) exists Thomas, sometimes called Dydimus. Both names mean “twin,” yet there is never any reference to the other half of this brotherhood. For our purposes, maybe the best way to see his “twin-ness” is by focusing on Thomas/Dydimus as an archetype of the struggle between the two poles of doubt and faith we all share.

In one of the many stories unique to the Fourth Gospel, St. John relates that Jesus, having just told the disciples that Lazarus has died, proposes they go to Judea to tend to this tragic turn of events. The following line is spoken by Thomas, not to Jesus but to the other disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”

The questions scholars have about this line are – who is the antecedent of “him,” and what does Thomas mean? One possible antecedent is Lazarus: “Let us all go to die with Lazarus.” But unless Thomas is planning on eating whatever killed Lazarus, then this is a reading that doesn’t seem to have a clear path to follow. The other possibility is: “Let us all go to die with Jesus.” This makes much more sense, but scholars from St. John Chrysostom to St. Augustine disagree about what Thomas was implying.

Chrysostom was not very kind to Thomas, and wrote that these words were a sign of the Apostle’s lack of confidence. The implication was that everyone knew that to go back to Judea was a death sentence, and Thomas voiced the fears of the others in the Twelve – if Jesus dies, then we all will die. We can almost hear Thomas’ sarcastic tone – “Hey, great – why don’t we all go back to Jerusalem so they can kill us all. Yeah, let’s do that.”

On the other hand, Augustine views Thomas’ words in a much more favorable light. He believed that the statement indicated Thomas’ love for Jesus and his desire to follow Him anywhere – even if that meant being killed at the hands of their enemies. What Thomas seemed to be saying was, “He wants to go, and is in danger of death. Shall we stay here to live? No. Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. John does not choose between Chrysostom and Augustine but leaves both interpretations to sit side-by-side. And that seems to have been a wise decision, for the machinations of the human mind and heart often involve two seemingly irresolvable positions. Yet, in the case of St. Thomas, both the mind (“this is a bad idea”) and the heart (“we must be with Jesus”) came to the same conclusion: “Let us all go to die with Jesus.”

Sixteen hundred years after the events of this story, the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal authored his Pensées, or “Thoughts” – a work that gave expression to Pascal’s defense of the Catholic faith. Among the many insights held within this text is one that encapsulates what must have ultimately drawn St. Thomas towards Jerusalem with Jesus and words that speak to us whenever we are of two minds yet feel we must follow Christ:

“The heart has its reasons which reason does not know…It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith; God felt by the heart, not by reason.”

At times like these, when reason often fails, it is good to listen to the heart. That is where God is and where we will find peace amidst the chaos that engulfs the world.