Tuesday, April 18, 2017

We will recognise Him by His wounds

Second Sunday of Easter Year A

There is a story told, a legend perhaps, about St. Teresa of Avila. One day the devil appeared to her, disguised as Christ. Theresa wasn’t fooled for even a second. She immediately dismissed him. Before leaving, however, the devil asked her: “How did you know? How could you be so sure I wasn’t Christ?” Her answer: “You didn’t have any wounds! Christ has wounds.”

Because of His Wounds, because His Sacred, Precious Blood was spilt, you have the opportunity to see the Face of God. As our Holy Father poignantly wrote at the start of his bull of indiction of the Jubilee of Mercy, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” That’s Christianity in a nutshell!  It is something that every Christian knows, but too few truly ponder enough. Today, a week after Easter Sunday, the Church invites us to gaze upon and meditate on the wounds the Lord bore for us. He returns to His disciples in His bodily form without having disguised the wounds of His passion. He returns a battle scarred hero, displaying His wounds to us for our scrutiny, inviting us to touch and even enter into these very wounds, so that our faith may be restored, our own personal wounds healed, and our sins forgiven.

I believe that you are all too familiar with the famous demand of Thomas in today’s gospel, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in His hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into His side, I refuse to believe.” This condition laid down by Thomas is, of course, the reason he has come to be called “the doubter.” However, does this description deal fairly with Thomas? Did he say that he doubted the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the ten who saw the Lord in bodily form? Well, I believe that we are jumping to a conclusion that one necessarily means the other. Thomas is not insisting on seeing Jesus with his own eyes, to see what the others claimed to have seen. That is not what he requested. He asked for something quite different, something quite specific and odd. He says, “I want to see the wounds of Jesus. I want to touch those wounds.”

It is only in the Gospel of John, in this particular passage, that we come to realise that Jesus was affixed to the cross by nails and it is only in the Fourth Gospel, do we have the story of the piercing of His side with a lance. The other gospels have not one single word about piercing nails or thrusting spear or even physical and visible wounds on the body of the resurrected Lord.

But isn’t it odd that the resurrected body of the Lord should have wounds? Isn’t the resurrection by definition a glorification, a transfiguration, a perfection, a total healing? Shouldn’t the resurrection remove every trace of old weakness, every hint of prior vulnerability? Why would the Fourth Evangelist deliberately take note of this seemingly trivial and yet scandalous point?

To add further intrigue to the story, Our Lord offers Thomas precisely what he desires, without any rebuke. At that point, Thomas utters his confession, “My Lord and my God.” Pay special attention to this high point, perhaps the climax of the entire gospel; that it comes not immediately after the incident of the empty tomb, nor at Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the resurrected Christ, and not even on the lips of the ten who witnessed that very same resurrected body walk through closed doors. No, these words that mark the “High Christology” of St John, where he surpasses the other evangelists in the honours, titles and privileges heaped upon Jesus, is found on the lips of the one who demanded to see the wounds of Christ. The wounds of Christ would be the very reason for this confession of faith. Thomas sees the wounds and he sees God.

This is at the very heart of our Easter faith. A Jesus without wounds is a Jesus without a cross and a Jesus without a cross would never be adequate to meet the deepest needs of mankind. Too many modern Christians have clasped to their bosoms a powerful but cross-less Christ. That kind of Christology will always have at its corollary a cross-less discipleship. A cross-less Christ, a God insulated from pain and suffering, will produce followers who believe they should enjoy the benefits of a special relationship with this lite-version of Christ. They become touchy ‘Christians’, ‘Christians’ who get offended easily. Every small little demand made of them would seem impossibly heavy. These ‘Christians’ will look to their false image of Christ for “blessings” of success and privilege, and these become evidence, that they enjoy divine approval. But to worship such a Christ would be to worship a false Christ – an anti-Christ.

Through the Thomas story, however, St John the Evangelist wishes us to see a resurrected Christ who bears forever the marks of nails and spear. Those wounds will never go away. They can’t be window-dressed. The exalted Christ has not passed a sublime existence immune to suffering. Even after Good Friday and Easter, God continues to turn to the world through the wounded Christ. To believe in this Christ means to take Him, wounds and all, into our lives. To believe means to participate in Christ’s own suffering on behalf of the true life of the world. The living but wounded Jesus is the Revealer of God. Therefore when the Fourth Gospel declares the oneness of the Father and the Son, it is proclaiming that the wounds of Christ are integral to the identity of the mystery we call “God.” What the pages of the gospel proclaim is not so much that “Jesus is like God” but rather, “God is like this Jesus with His wounds.”

This is why the suffering and death of the Son of God is unique in the world’s religions because in it we see the ultimate answer to suffering. God does not give us a ten-point explanation on suffering. He does not set out a systematic answer to the pain of the world. God does not stand aloof, watching, as the world suffers. In the Lord Jesus Christ, God enters the world and experiences suffering with us and for us. The death of Christ was not a myth. It was a physical and an experienced reality. This was the God-man, Jesus Christ, being wounded, scarred and beaten; being maimed, marred and murdered for us.  God can look us in the eye and honestly say, ‘I know what you are going through because I have gone through it too.’

This is the incredible reality of the Christian faith. We do not worship a God who gives us life lessons on how to be happy or a God who sets out a strategy for how to avoid sorrow. We do not worship a God who remains aloof, untouched by our pains and sorrows. We worship a God who has chosen to, as the Malay expression goes, “turun padang,” go down to the grassroots of unwashed humanity. Yes, we worship a God who has experienced the most profound sorrow of suffering. He suffered for us and He suffers with us. And He has the scars to show for it.

When Thomas sees Jesus and believes, he sees the wounds. He looks at the wounds. He does not see the evidence of man’s depraved cruelty but rather, he sees beauty, the beauty of the self-sacrificial love of the One who willingly chose to die for us. He sees the face of God’s mercy. We too need to see them to believe. We must let it sink in and remember that Christ did this for us. The wounds that mar Christ are the wounds that mar us all, transferred from us to him. In His death, every needless death is absorbed. Every drop of blood ever shed is seen in His death. Every sorrow is seen in His sorrow. Every tear of mourning and loss is understood by Him. God attends every funeral and whispers, ‘I know how this feels’ to everyone who will listen to His quiet voice. Our wounded God has redeemed every wound. Our murdered God has redeemed death. Our broken God has redeemed brokenness. Our bereft God has redeemed mourning. And, we will recognise Him by his wounds.

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