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Sun, Apr 24, 2022

'Life-giving Wounds"

Duration:20 mins 35 secs

Poor Thomas. He’s suffered such bad press over the centuries. “Doubting Thomas.” He didn’t get the blessing. Don’t be like Thomas!

But is that really the story, or is it tradition?

Tradition has it that this is a story about a buffoon who doubted the news. But did you notice that the word “doubt” isn’t in the text, regardless of which translation we read? What will we find if we look more carefully at how the gospel writer actually told the story?

The story begins on the First Day of Resurrection. Ten of the disciples have locked themselves into a room, terrified that the authorities will come for them next. All their hopes and dreams have crumbled into dust. They’re frightened, demoralized, and bitter. Jesus is gone.

And suddenly, Jesus is there. “Peace be with you,” he says, which probably sounded like “Shalom” in his native tongue. What does he do next? He shows them his wounds! They didn’t even ask! He knew what they needed, because even if they’d remembered he’d promised he would return, surely it would have been in a perfect body, free of wounds. But no. After the shalom, which means health or wholeness as well as peace, the next most important thing is for them to see him wounded.

Only then does the breath of life come from that wounded body. We don’t really hear anything about what the breath might have done to them. Is that left for us to imagine? To be shown later? To leave all possibilities open for us? What do you think?  

Thomas wasn’t there. Through the following week the others keep telling him that they’ve seen Jesus. I wonder if there was still so much skepticism in their telling that it didn’t get through. On the other hand, they saw the wounds. Why shouldn’t Thomas want the same proof they got? “I’ll never believe without seeing and touching,” he says. “I need what you got.”

In the translations we’re used to, Thomas refuses to “Believe.” I don’t know about you, but somehow that word sounds like a conclusion drawn from facts to me. “I believe the earth is round and revolves around the sun because I’ve seen the scientific evidence.” That’s not the same as faith, which is the Greek word in this text. English doesn’t have a verb form for “faith,” and unless we substitute “have faith,” as I did in this morning’s reading, we’re stuck with “believe,” which puts a spin on it that isn’t there in the original. Thomas isn’t convinced into belief by the other disciples’ testimony. He isn’t ready for faith.

So Jesus waits until he is ready, already knowing what he needs, and on the eighth day, when they’re all still in that safe house, there is Jesus, hands extended to Thomas in loving invitation. “Peace be with you. Touch my wounds.”

We don’t know if Thomas actually touched—the writer doesn’t go that far. But the writer also doesn’t say anything about the breath of the Spirit that the other disciples got a week earlier. I wonder if in reaching out toward Thomas, Jesus conveyed the Spirit. The symbolism of the breath of Spirit is nice, but does the actual story remind us that there are other possibilities? Did Mary receive the Spirit in the sound of her name, and the two in Emmaus in the breaking of the bread? Is this a message that the Spirit reaches us in whatever way she wants—whatever way we need, regardless of what church tradition insists?

What do you think?  

Clearly Thomas received the Spirit, because he bursts out with the great affirmation of faith, “My Savior and my God!” He can’t help it. He’s received the gift of faith and it overwhelms him.

Then comes Jesus’ statement: “Blessed are those who have faith without seeing,” and oh, have we twisted that one! “Blessing” is not reward for something we’ve done! Faith itself is the blessing, and the gospel writer wants to be sure his hearers get that, because they were all born too late to see. The free gift of faith is all that’s available to them. And what a blessing that faith is, for them and for us! We miss the point entirely when we say “Don’t be Thomas.” Thomas was given faith in seeing, and we are given faith through all kinds of witnesses, including Thomas. The writer is assuring us that faith is not denied to us because we can’t touch the living, wounded body of Jesus.

Or can we?

I recently spent three nights in the hospital, originally oblivious to how close to death I was. During that time I endured numerous needle sticks into the backs of my hands, and had a catheter snaked up my femoral artery to clear out my lungs. I came home with the back of each hand purple with bruising, and a wound almost in my side. They were life-giving wounds.

So I’ve been wondering about Thomas and Jesus’ wounds. For centuries we’ve been taught to lament Jesus’ death-giving wounds, but did Thomas recognize that his Savior’s wounds were ultimately life-giving? I had an inkling of participation in Jesus’ wounds in my hands and my side. Did Thomas also want to participate, to share the wounds in his own body?

I don’t know… What do you think?  

I don’t know. In my not knowing, I’m feeling a special affinity for Thomas these days. Remember the other times we hear from Thomas in the Fourth Gospel:

Chapter 11, when the others protest that it’s not safe for Jesus to go to Jerusalem, Thomas says “Let’s go to Jerusalem and die with him.”
Chapter 14, when Jesus invites them to come after him: “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going! How can we know the way?” I imagine the others standing there with wise looks pasted onto their faces, even though they’re as clueless as Thomas.

Meanwhile, the other disciples, throughout the gospels, have bluffed and blustered, asked for special honors, pretended to understand, protested that they couldn’t possibly be disloyal. Only Thomas is willing not to know and to go forward in his unknowing. Only Thomas will admit to uncertainty.

When the others are locked in that room, afraid for their lives, I imagine Thomas shrugging his shoulders and going out for food for everyone. Just as he took the risk of admitting that he didn’t have a clue what Jesus was talking about, he’s willing to take a risk to fetch the everyday necessities of life. Did he think, ‘Oh, I’ll be OK”? Or “Jesus is gone so it doesn’t matter if I live or die”?

I don’t know.

When the others told him they’d seen Jesus, what was he thinking? “I don’t know”? Or did he realize, in his unknowing, that there was something more and he needed to wait for it?

I don’t know.

I didn’t know if I would live or die. All I had was trust in the medical professionals and the knowledge and skill God had given them. I couldn’t talk to anyone who had survived the procedure I was about to have. I saw the array of machines and monitors, the masked faces in the room, but I didn’t know the outcome. Faith was all that was available. Thomas knew Jesus died on the cross, but he didn’t know what Jesus meant when he promised to rise again. Yet he was there in that room, admitting his unknowing and open to what Jesus had to give him.

Jesus gives him his wounds, and in the wounds, Thomas knows him and takes on a deeper, fuller life. When I realized my life-giving wounds resembled the wounds Jesus bore—and still bears, I had to acknowledge that God has more for me to do, and that sharing in Jesus’ life-giving wounds is what makes it all possible.

What is there for us to do? We live in a wounded world, just as we ourselves all each bear wounds of some kind. The amazing thing is that we are loved by a God who bears wounds for all eternity, wounds inflicted by broken, wounded human beings. Human beings whom God loves unconditionally. God loves those who wounded God! In Jesus’ wounds is new life.

What would happen if we lived every hour of our days connecting with the wounds borne by others whom God loves, neighbors here and far away? What if we reach out in our own woundedness to touch the wounds of others? Not to heal the world’s wounds, but to allow the Holy Spirit to transform them into sources of life, much like the disintegration of the caterpillar turns into       a new form of life.

What if we allow our wounds to open us to both giving and receiving love?

The beloved writer Henri Nouwen said that our wounds plow furrows in our hearts to make them ready to receive the wounds and the pain of others. What if wounds are not ultimately about broken skin and clotting blood and scabs and bruises, but about a way for life to be shared?

I don’t know.

But I’m learning something important from Thomas in his willingness not to know. There is such a grasping at certainty in our world today, as if we just can’t tolerate our woundedness. Thomas is the one who is able to wait in uncertainty and ambiguity. Unlike the others, he doesn’t pretend to know or understand what is complete mystery. He says to the others, “No, I don’t get it. I’m waiting.” They try to convince him, but he waits for Jesus to reach out to him. And of course, Jesus does just that. He always does when we’re ready to receive, and to reach back. To hold out our wounds to touch the wounds of Jesus. To touch the wounds of others and so to touch the wounds of Jesus. It’s not a cognitive act or intellectual decision. It’s the life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, breathed into us, transforming our wounds into means of life to share with others, and as we do it to others, we do it to Christ. It’s both a call and a promise.

What if we claim that promise and share our wounded selves, just as Jesus did? What if we see the wounds of Jesus in the wounds of others, see his broken body in theirs? What if we see in others the invitation to fuller life, deeper love, for us and for them and for the world?

What if?

What do you think?

This is what I do know: In life and death, we belong to God.


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