Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Saints: St. Thomas


Joshua Redman: St. Thomas


Poor St. Thomas. (To be more specific, poor St. Thomas the Apostle, not to be confused with St. Thomas Aquinas, or St. Thomas More, or St. Thomas of Becket, or any of the other dozen or so Thomases who are also Roman Catholic saints.)

Thomas had a long and productive saintly career. He is said to have travelled to India and introduced Christianity there (er, well, maybe not so productive there). But we know him best from one New Testament episode, and the story goes like this (with embellishment):

Thomas was not with the other disciples one fateful day---they probably sent him off for the beer and snack run. And when he returned, his apostolic buds had amazing news.

"Guess who was just here visiting with us? You'll never guess!" they told him.

"Dudes. Just tell me."


This must have struck Thomas as a really tasteless joke, since Jesus had recently gone through the "crucified, dead and buried" part of the familiar story.

"Yeah, right. Pull the other one, lads, it's got bells on."

"No, really. You just missed him."

"Look, next time, you can fetch your own damned beer if this is the thanks I get."

And then he said the famous words that he soon came to regret: "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe you."

And for this, a statement of incredulity that I bet every one of us would have come up with in some form, he is best known by the not-very-cool epithet, "Doubting Thomas."

A week later, the resurrected Lord pops in again, but this time Thomas is hanging around. Now I don't think Jesus was at all harsh about Thomas's earlier doubts. He must have had a pretty good sense of humor, because you have to admit, the whole notion of resurrection was pretty unexpected. So Caravaggio is probably taking artistic liberties with the sort-of-icky scene above. I'm sure that Thomas, when invited to act out his earlier words, just said, "No, that's okay, Lord, I'm good, thanks anyway."

Thomas did get a pretty sweet Virgin Island named after him, though, so there's that.

The real reason I'm posting this song is that I just saw Joshua Redman in concert on Sunday and wanted to share something from one of the great tenor saxophonists alive today. This is a tune written by Sonny Rollins, performed in 1995 by Redman at the Village Vanguard. You may recognize the melody after the long introductory solo, at about 4:30.

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