My frequent and generous use of hand sanitizer is probably the easiest way to find all my cuts, scrapes, and bruises I didn’t know I had on my hands. It’s a condensed version of that full-scale horror show when I jump into the water at the beach and find all the cuts, scrapes, and bruises all over my body. When it’s a significant cut or wound, we’re usually smart enough to avoid contact with peroxide or rubbing alcohol or salt water. But when we don’t remember we even have these wounds and cuts and bruises, finding them can be a surprise of stinging proportions. As a child I’ve never broken any bones, but I have learned to live with my occasional cuts and scrapes and bruises. It’s nothing more than an inconvenience. When needed, you just slap a band-aid on, and you carry on.
Several saints and religious authors have spent hours meditating on and writing about the wounds and bruises of Jesus. There is some fascination with his wounds because they are his badge of honor, by which he accomplished the will of the Father and paid the debt incurred by the disobedience of our first parents, reconciling us with God, making us children of God by adoption, and heirs to his eternal Kingdom of justice, light, and peace. Unlike all other widely admired persons whose memory is venerated with representations of their impressive accomplishments, their extensive wealth, and their widespread popularity, the Lord Jesus is revered rather alongside representations of his horrible suffering and death. And unlike heroic figures who sustain horrific and fatal injuries in the thick of battle but who are never ever depicted with their injuries, despite rising triumphant over sin and death, the vicious wounds and bruises Jesus sustained are never forgotten. He isn’t “washed, freshened up, and sanitized” for people to honor and admire. Rather the wounds and bruises remain on his body. And not surprisingly, when Jesus appears before his closest friends in the upper room, he insists they look at his injuries. Even Thomas would demand as much. So, generations of Christians yet to come will not be spared that image of their glorious and risen Lord still bruised and beaten, still crowned with thorns, still nailed to a cross.
We do clean him up some but likely just so we don’t completely turn everyone off. We have encountered further sanitizing of his horrific death as in images of Jesus washed and relaxed, crowned as king, and dressed in royal garments while still nailed to the cross. We might find this odd, but we can understand the intent. And moving in a different direction some will focus on the cross as a symbol of Jesus’ victory but remove him from the scene entirely. Perhaps Catholics have long been accustomed to seeing his dead body on the cross. But when we teach our children about his suffering and death, we tend not to dwell on how brutally he was treated or how grave is our own shame and guilt. Instead, we honor him and give thanks for his tremendous love for us, that he willingly embraced the horrors of physical torture and execution to redeem us sinful humanity and create the world anew. He never demanded honor or gratitude from his apostles. But he would point to his wounds as his way of reassuring them. His wounds would be the only proof they would ever need to convince them he still lives.
Now we all know, eventually cuts and bruises will dry up as they heal. A layer of dried blood or tough skin marks the wound that might still be tender to the touch. And often the healing process is accompanied by itching, which we are told is a good sign. We also know how it is not easy to ignore a scab that forms over a cut or bruise. If the scab forms where a lot of movement or contact occurs, preventing the wound from reopening can present some challenges. Lotions and moisturizers might ease the process. But if the location of the wound is still tender, that itch and scab are reminders not to interfere with the healing process. And we are not always proud of our scars especially if they were caused by our own arrogance, our fault, or our failing.
But Jesus’ wounds and bruises never seem to heal. They are always fresh and recently inflicted. I guess once a person is no longer living in the flesh, it makes no sense for wounds and bruises to heal. But images of Jesus on the cross do portray a specific moment in history. Accounts of his passion and death in the gospels decisively tell us his body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb. So fresh wounds have to mean something else. If by his wounds our sins are forgiven, perhaps we need to be reminded that his offer of forgiveness and reconciliation still demands our response. God’s generous offer of forgiveness and reconciliation can still meet with our hardness of heart. But when we begin to see, Jesus will be there with his wounds and his cross.
For Thomas to believe Jesus was alive, he needed something tangible, relying no more on speculation, opinion, or theory. He had to see and touch. And Jesus blessed those who did not need to see and touch. We presume that blessing was meant for us. But still, we demand to see his wounds and touch his nail marks. We just don’t use those actual words. And it is not at all rude or a lack of faith to ask for proof. Thomas did and he was still a powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord like the others.
Jesus comes to us often to show us his wounds and let us probe his nail marks. And whenever we see and touch them, he invites us to know that he is alive among us. Yet his wounds are not meant as signs of his resurrection. Rather our willingness to see his wounds and touch his nail marks are powerful reminders that we possess a share in his life. Jesus tells us he is present among us in his body, the church, and our sisters and brothers who make up that body bear his wounds and nail marks today. But many still fail to recognize his living presence, yet like the pharisees and scribes in Jesus’ time are constantly demanding signs. What we really need is the ability to see. Jesus’ wounds and nail marks are the wounds and nail marks of our sisters and brothers who have lost faith because of resentment, grief, betrayal, and guilt. They are those who live on the fringes of society, refugees fleeing danger and death, addicts and the mentally unstable who roam our city streets, children who have been abused or rejected by their families, and those who have given up on finding a place of dignity and welcome among us. They are the lost, the estranged, the self-destructive, and the broken. His wounds and nail marks are all around us. His suffering and death left visible marks on his body. We see and touch them every day. What will it take for us to open our eyes and see?
Thomas’ experience of coming to faith was not unique. Like him we want a personal, tangible experience of God. And yet Jesus stands before us today to show us his hands and side in the reality of his body, the church. And it saddens me sometimes that some Christians will denounce helping people in need like refugees fleeing danger and death over another group of people in need like homeless veterans wandering our city streets. Both bear the wounds and nail marks of Jesus. The choice is not between one or the other. The choice is between seeing and believing. If it is indeed the Lord, would it matter if we were looking at wounds on his hands, or his feet, or his side? When we see and touch the wounds of our sisters and brothers, we truly see and touch the wounds of the Lord. The question we need to ask is “What are we going to do about it?”
Rolo B Castillo © 2021