his scars tell of a Savior who will do anything to communicate God’s love; to grant those who believe, life, (eternal life), in his name!
April 16, 2023
Dr. Todd R. Wright If you have an image of this story in your mind, it is probably something like Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of Thomas”, the picture on the cover of your bulletin. Jesus stands to the left of the scene, but his white tunic attracts the eye and then draws it all the way down to Thomas’ finger that Jesus is guiding into the wound. I want you to notice three things: 1. Jesus is not angry with Thomas. He is not groaning, “Are you finally satisfied?” No, he is looking at Thomas with compassion. He knows what a struggle this must be for him. 2. The other disciples are no less interested. For all their brave words earlier, they want to see what Thomas demanded to see, too. He is not the only one with lingering doubts. 3. Finally, this wound is going to leave a scar! The Risen Lord bears the marks of what happened to him – the whipping and the crown of thorns, the nails, and the thrust of the spear. His story could be summed up by his scars!
There’s a line in the Goo Goo Dolls song, “Name”: “Scars are souvenirs you never lose …” Most days I’d rather have a snow globe or a T-shirt, but that’s not really an option. Consider your scars and the stories that go along with them. Or the ones you’ve heard. Carol reports, “When a friend got a major scar, the doctors asked her what kind of plastic surgery she wanted. She laughed at the question: “Are you serious? Do you really think I’m going to give up these bragging rights? I earned this scar!”[ii] So sometimes scars tell a hard-won story of bravery. Other times, scars testify that trauma has taken place. Heidi met Julissa while volunteering at the San Isidro port of entry, the busiest border crossing between the US and Mexico. Julissa, and her 3-year-old son, were from Honduras. Her scar story goes like this: Orphaned at 7, Julissa went to live with an aunt and cousin. They put her to work cooking, cleaning, and washing. Things became abusive. “A year ago, [her] cousin sliced the right side of her face from ear to jawbone because he was enraged about something left unwashed.” He cut her side as well. “She lost a lot of blood and tried to file a report, but the police waved her away, afraid of gang retaliation. Having nowhere to go, Julissa stayed put — until her cousin began beating her little boy. When she protested, he threatened to kill them both. They crossed the border and ended up in San Diego. ‘Are [the scars on her face and side] bad enough?’ Heidi remembers her asking. ‘Do [you] think they are healing too well?’ The border is now a place where scars of abuse and violence are treasured as a way to prove the credible fear [necessary for asylum].”[iii] And then there are times when the story of a person’s scars takes an unexpected turn. A single mom and her son moved in a few blocks from a church. They filled out a card asking for a pastoral visit. When Rody knocked on the door, Jack opened it and introduced himself, “I’m actually 11 years old. I’m just kind of small because of stuff.” His mom looked weary and worn out and bone thin. Before Rody could say anything, Jack was brandishing a Life magazine. The cover showed a slip of a boy in a wheelchair. “That’s me!” the boy chirped! “Jack was the first infant to successfully receive a heart. He’s had several surgeries since then,” his mother explained. Turning the dog-eared pages, Jack named every nurse, every doctor. “Everyone loved me so much,” he marveled. Then he unbuttoned his shirt, took Rody’s hand, placed it on the long, pale scars. “See how smooth they are?” His mother leaned forward and said, “He likes to touch his scars. It comforts him.”[iv] When Jack tells his scar story, somehow it becomes a story of love; a story of new life!
And then there is Jesus’ story: John says that one of the first things he did when appearing to the terrified disciples, locked in an upper room, was to show them his scars. Clearly it was important. He wasn’t just passing the time. He was teaching three key lessons. First, they tell of God choosing to become human – to dwell in a body that could be bruised and broken, stabbed and spat upon. He did not turn away. He did not hide. He did not flinch or flee. He faced his path with courage. It is a story his followers lived alongside him; and in recognizing it; they recognize him. Second, his scars also tell of a man who claimed to be the Messiah and who offers his scars as proof that he endured the worst the powerful and vengeful could do to silence him. He was not immune. He did not just appear to suffer. The crucifixion killed him, just as it would have killed any human. But he reappears to show that, by the power of God, death did not have the last word! The story of his last days left his followers broken-hearted and bereft. They are paralyzed and petrified. His scars are proof that trauma is not the end of the story! They offer freedom! And finally, his scars tell of a Savior who will do anything to communicate God’s love; to grant those who believe, life, (eternal life), in his name! It is a story for Mary Magdalene whose Easter morning good news was doubted, and those locked in an upper room that evening, and for Thomas a week later. It is also for us – we whose stories are written on our flesh with every wound and who must learn to read the scars of others. Jesus gives us a vocabulary of suffering and
[i] “The Incredulity of St. Thomas: by Caravaggio [ii] From “Scars, doubt and breathing peace” by Carol Howard Merritt in the Christian Century, 4/5/13 [iii] From “See the asylum seekers’ wounds and believe” by Heidi Neumark in the Christian Century, 4/26/19 [iv] From Rody Rowe’s entry in “Scar: Essays by readers” in the Christian Century, 12/28/20