I’m not sure Thomas gets a particularly fair deal in history. For two millennia he has been, more or less, the poster child for doubt: Doubting Thomas – an archetype that has entered the mainstream psyche. All generations will call Mary blessed… and apparently all generations will call Thomas doubting… I’m thinking Thomas needs a better public relations plan…
This is one of those stories that we’ve heard so many times we almost don’t hear it at all anymore. We just hear the echo of it. The echo in my mind is of a belligerent Thomas confronting Jesus – show me the wounds or I won’t believe it’s you. And of a gentle, patient Jesus showing him the wounds and then almost taunting him – you see and believe, more blessed are those who believe without seeing…
That, of course, isn’t really the story. When Jesus arrives at the home where the disciples are huddled the first thing he does is show everyone his hands and his feet. But Thomas is not there. So, when Thomas says he needs to see the wounds, he’s just saying he needs to see what everyone else has already seen. But he doesn’t say this to Jesus. He says it to the other disciples.
When Thomas next meets Jesus, Jesus invites him to look at, to touch, the wounds. Jesus knows Thomas’s heart and knows that Thomas is dying to get a peek. And it seems as though Jesus is as interested in showing off the wounds as Thomas is in seeing them.
What strikes me is that maybe doubt is not the point of the story. Maybe this is not a story about overcoming doubt or about having faith. I’m beginning to understand it as being a story about “the wounds.” The story of Wounded Jesus rather than of Doubting Thomas…
Doubt is no big deal. I have doubts. We all have doubts. It would be a bigger story if Thomas didn’t have doubts. After all, he knew for a fact that Jesus was dead. He should have had a hard time believing Jesus was walking among them again in the flesh. Who in their right mind would believe that without some proof.
But what strange proof Thomas seems to want. Show me the puncture wounds, the stab wounds. It’s strangely intimate and macabre all at the same time. Surely there are other more beautiful and appealing ways that Thomas could have had his doubts allayed.
Jesus does nothing to provide any alternatives to coming face to face, finger to gash, with the wounds. Surely Jesus could have given another sign, or just talked to Thomas, or changed some water into wine… Instead, he seems to be saying here I am, look at my wounds, look at my hands and my side.
As I say, I’m beginning to understand that the wounds may be the central part of this story.
What if Thomas had not been so honest? What if he had said “I have no doubts… I don’t need proof… I have faith.” In other words, what if Thomas lied?
Those doubts would still have been there, and they would have worked on Thomas. One way or the other he would have been looking for proof. What type of proof might he have sought?
What are some of the ways we seek to prove that we know God?
Some people see proof of God in disasters. An earthquake devastates Haiti, and some see this as proof of the hand of God. We don’t understand, but God had a reason for making that earthquake… And not any old God, but most often a really angry God; somebody sinned, and God caused an earthquake, or a flood, or COVID19 as punishment. Isn’t it convenient that this God seems to be angry at the same folks we’re angry at…
But the hand of this angry God has no nail holes in it. This God knows no crucifixion. This angry and punishing God causes suffering. Jesus, with his wounds, takes on the world’s suffering.
I’d love to be smug and say I don’t look for this proof – I don’t worship this angry God… but when bad things happen to people I don’t like, somewhere in the back of my mind I want to see the hand of God… How much healthier, how much more faithful to be like Thomas…
Some people see proof of God in unexpected rewards. I suspect many who have won the lottery have felt that they won not by chance alone, but by divine intervention. I know if I ever win the lottery, I will thank God… and at some level I might suspect that God stuck a hand in that machine that picks the winning numbers… that the divine fix was in…
But again, this is not the God that Thomas was seeking to know. This God’s hands have no nail holes either. This is the hand of a God who rewards a few and forgets about the rest, rather than a God who died so that all might have abundant life.
Thomas is refreshingly direct about his doubts. He doesn’t require God to destroy his enemies or make him rich. He just needs to see the wounds. He needs to see the loving, sacrificing God who died for all… who wants to punish nobody… who extends grace to everybody… the God of infinite love.
Jesus does not seem too bothered by Thomas’s doubts. There is no condemnation in the way he talks to Thomas. He is very willing to show the wounds, to even have Thomas touch them. Everybody gets to look at the wounds. Do not doubt but believe. That’s what Jesus says.
Two things happen when Jesus does this. He relieves the disciples’ doubts, and he fixes the wounds permanently in their memories. They can never remember Jesus without remembering that he was crucified… that he was wounded. Those nail holes and gashes will never be separated in their minds from Jesus.
That’s why I think this story is more about the wounds than the doubts. I think this story is Jesus’ way of saying to us, two millennia later, “remember I was crucified.” We can’t know Jesus without knowing the wounds. Jesus has managed to fix those nail holes and gashes in our minds as well.
The point in remembering the wounds is not sentimental. We are not meant to feel sorry for Jesus or for ourselves. There is not a trace of self-pity in Jesus in this story – or in any story for that matter.
The point in remembering the wounds in not to place blame; though clearly, we Christians have been tempted, and have sometimes given into that temptation with horrible consequences, to blame somebody for wounding Jesus. The truth is we are all responsible for wounding Jesus. More importantly, Jesus’ wounds are for all of us. There is no guilt or blame in this story.
Remembering the wounds changes our entire relationship with God. Saint Paul said we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others. Our relationship to a crucified God can’t be rational and intellectual, because it doesn’t make sense. Our relationship to a crucified God can’t be based on demonstrations of great might, because a mighty God would not have been crucified.
When we want a God who will smite our enemies, we have to remember the nail holes in the hands. When we want a God who will make us rich, we have to bring the wounds to mind. When we think we know who God likes and who God hates, we have to consider the scourging. When we are indifferent to those who are starving, we have to call to mind the vinegar that was given to Jesus when he was thirsty.
Jesus does not show the wounds to Thomas as an accusation. He makes no suggestion that Thomas or anyone else should feel bad because of his wounds.
The wounds remind us that Jesus is Lord and savior of the poor, the injured, the wounded, the sorrowful, the powerless, as well as everyone else. This is the God we worship. The wounds help us get on with living our baptized life. We cannot know Jesus without knowing his wounds.