If scars could speak, they could tell some memorable stories. Some stories would be humorous, others deadly serious. Some would be frightening, others funny.
Let me tell you a story about a small scar on Blaine's left hand, which happened nearly thirty years ago. At that time Lisa and Blaine lived in a small trailer. By small, I mean it was eight feet wide and thirty-two feet long. At that time Lisa was very pregnant. Their first child, whom you know to be Ruth, was due to be born very soon.
Unfortunately, some water pipes in the trailer were broken, so they had no water until the plumber could come to fix them. Fortunately they planned to go away for a few days to enjoy a short vacation on Cape Cod, where they could cook and bathe. For the time being they did not want to dirty any dishes or pans, so they ate whatever leftovers they could find in the cupboards, mostly candy bars and fruit. Not much for the final weeks of her pregnancy, but fortunately they would soon be on the road to Cape Cod where they could prepare a healthy meal and enjoy some peace and quiet.
Unfortunately Blaine decided at the last minute to stake up a few tomato plants in their small garden. He had invested much time over the summer tending the plants that he did not want to see flop to the ground while he and Lisa were away. So he trotted off to the garden with his trusty saw, or should I say rusty saw, to cut a few tree branches in order to stake up the plants burgeoning with luscious tomatoes.
Blaine proceeded to cut a few branches, firmly grasping each with his left hand while sawing mightily with his right. Meanwhile Lisa waited so patiently in the trailer, putting up with her husband’s last minute obsession to protect his tender tomato plants. After a few minutes Lisa was startled to hear her husband’s voice outside the trailer saying ever so calmly, “Don’t worry, dear, I am all right. Just call the hospital and tell them you are bringing me so the doctor can stitch up my hand.”
This scar can tell a story, about being overly compulsive and underly cautious. Scars can tell stories. Some are funny, others are frightening. Some stories about scars recount painful wounds, other stories recount miraculous healings.
The Gospel of John recounts a story about scars, the scars Jesus had after his death and resurrection. As you heard earlier from John 20:24-31, Thomas was feeling left out. He had missed seeing the resurrected Jesus. The only thing the other disciples could talk about was how they had seen Jesus, how Jesus had come back from the dead, how he walked through closed doors. Thomas, on top of feeling left out, was becoming tired of all this endless, hyped-up chatter about Jesus’ ghost walking through walls. Finally, he blurted out, “You have all gone loony. You are all hallucinating. Unless I see and touch Jesus’ scars for myself, I won’t believe a word you are telling me.”
For the next week Thomas held fast to his ultimatum in spite of how fervently the other disciples tried to convince him that Jesus was alive again. Once Thomas had started pouting about being left out, he could not save face if he changed his mind to fit in with his friends. By the end of the week, Thomas and the other disciples were barely on speaking terms, until Jesus showed up.
Thomas and the others were just hanging around, when suddenly — poof — there stood Jesus in the middle of the room. The other disciples were ecstatic. They were ready to taunt Thomas by saying, “We told you so,” when Jesus held up his hand and signaled for them to hold their tongues.
Catching the other disciples glaring at Thomas, Jesus quickly said to the bunch, “Let bygones be bygones. Let’s put it to rest and be at peace.”
Then Jesus turned to face the dumbfounded Thomas. “If you can’t believe I am really the same person, look at these scars on my hands where they put in the nails.” Then, pulling aside his tunic, Jesus added: “If those scars aren’t enough proof, look at my side where they lanced me. Now that you have seen for yourself, who do you think I am?"
In shock, Thomas gasped, “Oh, my God!“ Then in the next breath, he grasped the truth in what he had exclaimed. He couldn’t stop repeating himself, but this time instead of dismay, he made his famous confession, “My God and my Lord!”
Quick as a wink, Thomas changed his mind about Jesus, from doubting he was even alive to believing he was divine. Well, actually, the change did not come as suddenly as that. Thomas had struggled over not believing or believing in the resurrection for seven days. The final result came quickly, but the process had taken time. The difference came when he saw the scars. Scars tell stories. In this case, a story that persuaded Thomas to believe Jesus, to believe Jesus was divine, to believe Jesus was hisLord, hisGod.
Scars always have stories to tell: stories about how the scars came to be and stories about showing the scars; stories about hurts and stories about healings. I wonder what stories Jesus told Thomas about his scars. I wonder what stories Thomas later told. So many stories came from those scars.
One aspect of this whole story that puzzles me is why Jesus still had any scars. When I imagine what a resurrected body will look like, I anticipate perfection. No more aches and pains. No more high blood pressure and diabetes. No more glaucoma and arthritis. Instead pure and total perfection. Absolute health. The prophetic vision in Revelation 21:4 predicts that among the resurrected millions eventually enjoying heaven’s bliss, there will be no more mourning or crying or pain.
If resurrected bodies will enjoy blissful perfection, why did Jesus’ resurrected body still show holes, show scars? Once God did the hard job--resurrecting Jesus from the grave--a complete makeover, including patching up a few holes, would seem easy, small change. Why did God not produce a few layers of fresh wrinkle free skin after restoring a whole life?
Evidently God did not simply leave the job unfinished. God did not absentmindedly overlook a few details. Presumably God had a reason. Maybe God kept the holes and scars simply to convince doubting Thomas. Maybe Thomas needed tangible proof that the Jesus brought back to life was the same Jesus he had known for three years prior. Maybe, the scars were solely for Thomas’ benefit.
But that seems a drastic step when all that may have been necessary to convince Thomas was better timing. Jesus could have simply timed his first appearance after the resurrection to the disciples when all, including Thomas, were present, not while Thomas was absent so he might later take a stand on feeling left out.
Maybe there were other reasons for keeping and showing the scars. Maybe more was intended than to benefit only Thomas. Maybe keeping the scars was intended to benefit more than those who actually saw the scars. Maybe it was intended for those who heard and still hear the story about those scars. For scars have the power to tell stories for as long as the scars last.
Edward Shillito was an English minister who served in World War I. He wrote a poem entitled “Jesus of the Scars.” In the form of a poem he actually told a story, his story about those scars. Rather than read his entire poem, I will take the liberty to update his poem into modern words to tell you the story.
If we have never sought you before, we seek you now;
Your eyes burn through the dark; they are our only stars.
We must have sight of the thorn-pricks on your brow,
We must have you, oh Jesus of the Scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In the entire universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by your scars, we claim your grace.
If, when the doors are shut, to us you draw near,
Only reveal those hands and that side of yours;
We know today what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us your scars, we know the horrors.
The other gods were strong, but you were weak.
They rode aloft, but you stumbled to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but you alone.
As we heard the Gospel writer John tell the story, somehow seeing Jesus' wounds and scars brought Thomas to believe Jesus was God and Lord. He became convinced Jesus was divine upon seeing those wounds and scars.
As we heard Edward Shillito tell his story, somehow recounting Jesus’ wounds spoke to Edward Shillito’s wounds. He sensed that a wounded God could speak to his wounds. As long as Jesus has scars, he can still identify with my hurts. As long as Jesus has scars, he can exhibit eventual healing for my wounds. Since Jesus still has scars from wounds, you and I, who are wounded in so many ways, can relate to God.
Some people find it difficult to believe Jesus was on par with God. It is reasonably easy to believe that he was an exemplary teacher, a great sage, and a profound moralist. But the idea that Jesus was God in a human body, that is hard for many to accept.
I gather that part of the difficulty comes because they cannot match up what they see in Jesus with what they know about God. Or, maybe the difficulty comes from the other direction. Maybe they cannot match up what they know already about God with what they see in Jesus.
If you picture God as residing way off in space, distant from us, then it is hard to match up such a God with Jesus. Jesus was too hands-on, too down-to-earth, too much like us.
If you picture God as immensely strong and powerful, shrinking massive forces into whirling electrons and neutrons, then it is hard to match up such a God with Jesus. Jesus cried when he saw friends hurt. He bled when foes hurt him.
On the other hand, what if, instead of starting with what we picture God to be like and see if Jesus matches up, what if we start with what Jesus was like and see how God matches up? What if we start with the story that Jesus bore scars from wounds like ours? Then what does God look like?
Then God looks like someone eager to be close to us, devoted enough to share pain with us, and still strong enough to bring healing for us. If one day God shared in our wounds, then one day we can share in God’s healing. Jesus still has the scars to show what God intends. Jesus did not need to keep the scars, unless maybe he wanted us to hear the story over and over.