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The Scarred Body of Jesus




THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO JOHN

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "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." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

JOHN 20:19-31


Sermon: The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor


When you heard today’s Gospel did you think, ‘doubting Thomas’? Interpretations of this reading are often focussed on Thomas and his inability to believe that the disciples have seen the risen Jesus. Thomas wants proof, telling them, “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.”

 

Although the doubting Thomas interpretation makes a lot of sense, it is too simple, especially considering how complicated the Gospel of John is. In John, passages contain multiple meanings, the author using repetition of words and images to convey complex theological points. If we focus only on doubting Thomas and don’t look deeper, we miss a lot of what the Gospel is trying to tell us, especially about Jesus and his relationship with humanity.

 

When I went back and read the passage again, what stood out to me was something I hadn’t noticed before. It is actually twice in the Gospel that we hear that Jesus shows his hands and his side as a way of confirming his identity to both the disciples and Thomas. By doing this he would have also shown them the scars left from the nails and sword at the crucifixion. We have to wonder, why does the author of John use scars to reveal who Jesus is?  Why not something more God-like, maybe angels, doves, a heavenly voice…these all could have told the disciples and Thomas that Jesus has appeared…why a scarred body??

 

As I reflected on this, what stood out is that Jesus’ post-resurrection body is scarred. Often when we think of a resurrected body it is a perfected body…that is, a body without physical impairment, scar, or blemish. For example, many imagine that if someone cannot walk, run, or jump on earth, in heaven all of this will be possible, life will be better, bodies will be 100% perfect. But notice how Jesus’ post-resurrection body has not been perfected…instead it still contains scars, still contains the signs of physical trauma.

 

Beneath the doubting Thomas interpretation, I wonder if the author of John is pointing us to Jesus’ scarred body to show us something about who he is and how he relates to us. Scholar, Rebekha Rhea writes on this exact point, “If your Savior does not have scars, if your Jesus is too good and powerful for his wounds, what does God know of humanity?” John wants us to know that Jesus was actually crucified, his body was actually broken…he absolutely went through the pain of extreme torture and the scars remain on him as proof of this. This shows the disciples, Thomas, and us that Jesus, God, knows pain, he has been there, he understands what we go through…our Saviour is not perfect, free of suffering, too good and powerful for wounds, but our Saviour is broken, battered, experienced in suffering. Our Saviour knows what it means to be human.

 

And the power of this image of Jesus impacts our lives more than doubting Thomas. It is so easy to forget that God understands pain. When life gets really bad, when, for example, someone is not healed after a ton of prayer and medication…I know that I, and probably some of you, begin to think that God has abandoned everyone and we might begin hating God, cursing God for letting bad things happen. But today, the scarred body of Jesus that remains even after his resurrection reminds us that Jesus went through extreme suffering too…he knows exactly what we go through and is united with us in this aspect of what it means to be human…there is no suffering that is too painful, no burden too heavy, that God would ever leave us to deal with it alone.

 

And this is something we are reminded of every Sunday when we hear the words, “the body of Christ broken for you” at the Eucharist. I used to think that this was all about sin, and that Christ’s body was broken to save me from sin…but what if it these words are also a reminder that Christ’s body was really and truly broken, as our bodies are broken and we need to remember that he understands? That he is with us, right beside us, through the worst things we endure??

 

This interpretation of our reading from John, the focus on the scarred Jesus, opens the door for every human being, no matter how much pain they carry, to find themselves in Christ. A sermon from the Disabilities Ministry of the United Methodist church speaks of a potted plant, whose roots will eventually break the pot, making room for more roots. So, “the body of Christ is left broken, leaving more room for more people. In Christ’s body, broken for you, there is room for me and there is room for you. There is not one single person who cannot fit in the body of Christ. The brokenness of Christ’s body is what makes room for every one of us. Healed, the capacity would have been limited. Christ’s body is broken for you to make room for you!” We are all broken, as Christ was, so we can all find ourselves in him. Whether your body is scarred, physically impaired, painful, traumatized, struggling through illness and advancing age…Christ understands, nothing will separate us from him. And it is here that we can find our strength, when life gets really bad…the strength that comes in knowing that our God loves us so much that he suffered for us, his body broke for us, and he is with us through the worst times of our life.

 

Beneath the image of doubting Thomas, the Gospel of John contains a deeper theological truth. The bodily scars of Jesus, noted twice in our reading, makes so very clear that God knows our suffering, that God will never leave us, even if we think God has. This is the gift of the post-resurrection, scarred Saviour, we encounter today and each week in the body broken for us. When you feel yourself turning away from God because the pain is too much, remember this truth…if you know of others suffering who are losing hope, share this truth…our Savior has scars, our Saviour has wounds, our Saviour knows our human struggles, and our Saviour unites himself with us in this.

 

Amen.

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