This coming Sunday, April 11, is the first Sunday after Easter, sometimes known as “Thomas Sunday,” because, at least in churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary, the story of “Doubting Thomas” from the Gospel of John is read each year on that Sunday.

We don’t hear much about Thomas anywhere else in the Gospels, except for this extraordinary story of doubt converted to faith. So presumably there was nothing special about him; he was just an ordinary man among the ordinary, common men who were Jesus’ apostles.

Thus the story recounted in John 20:19-30 must be meant to catch our attention. On the Saturday evening following the crucifixion (i.e., the beginning of Sunday, according to Jewish practice), the apostles are hiding from the temple authorities behind locked doors and, poof! Jesus appears in their midst. To prove it’s really him, he shows them the nail marks in his hands and the spear wound in his side. They’re amazed and overjoyed and Jesus tells them his mission is now their mission.

When Thomas, who wasn’t present for this miraculous appearance, hears the rapturous accounts of his fellow apostles, he is, understandably, grumpy. Imagine: You’ve been following this miracle-worker around for months or years as part of his inner circle. He gets himself killed, and then comes back – or so your buddies say – when you’re not around. I’d be pretty upset, wouldn’t you? Thomas is very upset indeed; so much so, that he vows he won’t believe that Jesus has risen from the dead unless he touches Jesus’ very wounds himself.

And, what do you know? The very next evening, there they all are again, hiding upstairs behind their locked door and Thomas is with them this time. Once again, poof! In comes Jesus. He looks straight at Thomas and offers him the proof he had asked for. Overcome, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

What’s going on here? Is Jesus, after 30-odd years of being confined to human limitations, just having fun with his new ability to walk through walls? Why repeat the same performance two nights running?

It seems to me there is one obvious explanation for Jesus’ second appearance in that upper room. After all, it might seem gratuitous to do all over again what he’d already done the previous night. And I don’t think Jesus returns to scold Thomas for not taking on faith what the other apostles told him.

He comes back because he has heard Thomas’ prayer in John 20:25: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” You might think of this as a strange sort of prayer, but is it really so different from “God, where are you?” or “I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this day”?

Jesus, who hears the heart, knows that, after all the trauma and fear of the last few days, Thomas needs the same reassurance as the other disciples, and he is willing to give it. He hears Thomas’ doubt as a prayer, because that’s what it is. In a sense, Thomas’ trust of Jesus can be seen in his willingness to say aloud what he needs, even if it isn’t expressed in the form of a typical prayer. He is a model, not of lack of faith, but of honesty and trust.

We should all be so trusting and so honest. For Jesus (God) hears our hearts too, and waits only for us to speak what is in them to answer our prayers.