Marks of Wounds and Glory
April 23, 2006
John 20:19 – 31
There is not a verse of the scriptures that is wasted. Christians have always followed the example of the Jewish rabbis in believing that there is no verse of the scripture that is accidental. Every verse, every word, has significance for our lives. This is certainly true of today’s gospel. Jesus appears in his risen body to the disciples. Yet that body bears the marks of his passion, the nail prints in his hands, the gash in his side. Now the presence of those marks might at first seem to be simply the disciples describing what they saw. But the scriptures pay great attention to the marks. They even invite Thomas to touch them. From this we can be assured that their presence is much more then accurate description. They are meant to carry a message, a truth for our lives. The truth is this: there is power and life in woundedness.
In his risen body Jesus bears the marks of his passion. He does not hide them. He wants it to be clear to us that when we admit our sins, our mistakes, our failures, and our brokenness in light of his resurrection, they can lead to life. This truth is contrary to the normal way we approach our limitations. We all want to put our best foot forward. We want to promote our success and downplay our failures. We deny the mistakes that we make, the faults and wounds that we bear. But in doing this we move away from the truth of who we are. Whenever we act in a way that is contrary to what is real, it diminishes us rather then strengthens us.
Now Jesus is certainly not telling us that we should place our wounds on display, that we should flaunt our mistakes and failures. We all know people who have unfortunately built their identity around their weaknesses. We have met people who have told us way too much about their mistakes. But it can be healthy, in the right context and at the right time, to uncover our wounds and even to let others touch them. When we have lost someone through death, divorce, or rejection, we try to be strong. But we must also mourn. To shed tears is the first step towards healing. When we are afraid of something in our family, in our world, about our health, admitting that fear and letting someone we trust touch it does not harm us. Instead it prepares us for what lies ahead. When we have given in to our own selfishness when we have hurt someone through a word or a deed, it is not an embarrassment to say I was wrong. Saying I am sorry to our spouse, our children, our parent, our friend is a statement of truth that can open a new beginning. There is power in our wounds, a power that comes from the truth.
Occasionally someone has asked me as a priest when I hear confessions, do I ever end up thinking less of a person who has come in to confess a serious sin. I can honestly tell you that in over 30 years of priestly ministry that has never occurred. There is something powerful and holy about the honest admission of a fault in God’s presence. Contrary to making me think less of a person, it actually makes their dignity and their goodness easier to see. I always walk away from such encounters humbled and aware of God’s presence.
The risen Christ comes before us today bearing the marks of his passion. Jesus does not hide his wounds and neither need we. Admitting our imperfections, fears, doubts, and mistakes does not defeat us. It releases power for healing and for life. We do not need to deny the marks of our wounds. For we believe that God will change us as God changed Jesus. We trust that the marks of our wounds will become the marks of our glory.
Holding Fast to Each Other
April 12th, 2015
John 20: 19-31
In today’s gospel, the risen Jesus not only comes to his disciples and offers them peace, he also commissions them to extend that peace to others. The text tells us that Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained.” This is a powerful command to extend the forgiveness that comes from Christ’s resurrection to others. And it might even be deeper than it first sounds. That depends on how we translate the second part of the verse.
I think most of us know that the New Testament was written in Greek, and therefore we are dependent upon the skill and the insight of translators to convey the message in English. Sometimes in Greek, a particular phrase can be translated in a number of different ways. This is the case with the second part of Jesus’ command in today’s gospel. Our translation reads, “Whose sins you retain are retained,” but it is also possible to translate this verse, “Whoever you hold fast is held fast.” The verb here “to hold fast” is the same verb that Matthew uses in his resurrection account when the women at the tomb “hold fast” to the feet of the risen Christ. So “holding fast” means to embrace another in love.
When we look at this command of Jesus from this perspective, he is asking us to forgive others and then to hold them fast. He is asking us to do this communally, as a Church. The primary sacrament of forgiveness for the early Church and for us is the sacrament of baptism. When we are baptized into Christ Jesus, the bond of sin that can enslave us is broken. After baptism it is the responsibility of the Church to “hold fast” those who are baptized. Jesus commands us to hold on to one another, and this is both a privilege and a challenge. When someone is baptized into Christ that person becomes part of us, part of the body of Christ. We do not know who a child who is baptized will grow up to be. We will not know how many goals he will achieve or mistakes he will make. But it is our role as parents, as friends, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to hold on to him, to protect him and to love him as a member of the body of Christ.
Christ’s command then is forgive one another and to hold on to one another. And his command is without condition. We are to hold on to one another when it is easy, and when it is difficult. At times it can be difficult. Then we are called to hold on to others even when they are selfish or inconsiderate, when they are sick or addicted, when they struggle over their sexual orientation, when they make decisions that are disastrous. Always and everywhere we are called to hold on to those who belong to us in Christ, so that we can reflect the love of God that is without limit.
Jesus commands the disciples on the night of the Resurrection, and commands us, to forgive one another and to hold on to one another. This of course is a challenge, and we often fall short. But each time we succeed in holding fast to a brother or sister who is weak, difficult, or broken, we succeed in reflecting the love of God—the love that will never let us go.
The Wounds We Carry
April 8, 2018
Today’s gospel is not only a glorious appearance of the risen Lord. It is also a humiliating reunion between Jesus and his disciples. Remember, this is the first time that the disciples have seen Jesus since his passion and death. During the passion, all of the disciples abandoned him, and Peter who was the first of the apostles denied him three times. So this scene is as much a fearful reckoning as a joyful reunion. The disciples would be justly afraid of what Jesus would say to them. What he says to them is, “Peace be with you.” Jesus tells the disciples upfront that they are forgiven, that their relationship with him can continue. At these words, the disciples rejoice.
But although the disciples are forgiven, it would be wrong to conclude that their betrayal has been erased. Although Jesus offers to the disciples his peace, this does not mean that they have been returned to the condition they were in before their sin. This is why Jesus shows them his hands and his side. His body bears the wounds of his passion. Those marks are present, in part, because of the failure of his friends. So although this gospel is about forgiveness and reconciliation, it also tells us that the failure of the disciples cannot be completely eliminated. Jesus will bear the mark of their sin always.
When we fail in some significant way, there is always the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. But we must also have the strength to face the consequences for what we have done. If out of selfishness or fear we betray a friend and put an important relationship at risk, we can and should apologize and ask for forgiveness. But even after we are forgiven, we will always know that we placed something unworthy above the value of our friend. If we betray a confidence or tell a lie which seriously hurts someone personally or financially, we should repent. But even if we are reconciled, we will always remember how we were weak enough to hurt another person. The wounds of our sins can be healed, but they always remain visible. Years later, when we remember our failure, we will find ourselves saying, “Was I really that selfish? Was I really that weak? Did I fall so short from the person I was called to be?”
Today’s gospel warns us not to be naïve. Our failures, though forgiven, still follow us. On days we are weak they haunt us still. This is why today’s gospel also gives us hope. The wounds of Jesus are present, but they are displayed on a glorified body. The disciples are flawed, but they receive Jesus’ peace. Even though the failures of our lives cannot be completely erased, with God’s help, we can find the strength to continue—to build a life of growth, love, and service. Like Jesus’ body, we will always carry the marks of our weakness and fear. But with God’s grace we can also reflect the glory of the resurrection, and thus find the courage to shout, “Alleluia.”