I can still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when the trailer lurched forward and caught my dad’s hand between it and the hitch on the back of the family station wagon.
I was twelve, maybe thirteen years old. That would have made my sisters eleven, ten and nine years old. I was still bigger than they were and stronger. Mary, Sarah, and I had been assigned to the back of the camper to push and Martha was standing next to my dad waiting to guide the camper into place. Only the wheels were caught on some kind of grade and try as we might we couldn’t seem to get it to budge. My dad shouted at us to push just one more time and I gave it all I had and felt it give.
Before we could fully understand what had happened, my mom was driving him to the local emergency room with a towel wrapped around his bleeding hand. We were left to sit and wait around a now cold campfire — I remember carrying the guilt heavy in those waiting hours for I knew it was my effort that had hurt him.
A few hours later they were back. His wounded hand now sported a couple of stitches and a big white bandage. He was quick to assure us that it was his fault, not ours, for we were only doing as we were told. And then he went on to say that he was glad it was his hand that took the blow and not Martha’s… for he knew the damage to her much smaller hand would have been far worse. Like any loving parent, he would willingly take the pain in place of his child any time and every time if he possibly could.
He bore the scars of that particular afternoon on his hand the rest of his life. I sometimes think the mark on the palm of his hand said as much about who he was as anything did.
Indeed, I suppose it is so for all of us. Our scars tell part of the story of who we are, what has mattered to us, what has happened to us, the risks we’ve taken, the gifts we’ve given. And as we are reminded in the story before us in John’s Gospel, this was surely also so with Jesus, too.
Which is why Thomas insisted he needed to see, no more than that, feel the scars in his hands and put his own hand in Jesus’ side to be sure that it was him. One would think he would have recognized him with from the features of his face or the sound of his voice, but no, for Thomas, Jesus had become something more since that long walk to the cross a week before. Jesus’ very identity was now defined by the sacrifice he had made in our behalf. A sacrifice made most visible in those wounds that by then could have only begun to heal.
Now it seems to me in recent years that Thomas’ reputation has been somehwat redeemed. I’m old enough to remember when the descriptor ‘Doubting’ always came before his name…. as if one could do anything but doubt in the face of such incredible news as was shared with him by the others. These days, it seems, the emphasis is more on his confession of faith which comes right after Jesus’ appearance among the disciples in that locked upper room: “My Lord and My God!” is Thomas’ exclamation as soon as he realizes that he is actually standing in the presence of the Crucified and Risen One.
Still, I wish sometimes that we could go back to the time when we talked more about Thomas’ doubt, only perhaps in a different way than we once did. For in my experience, doubt is not necessarily a terrible thing. To be sure, doubt is not comfortable, and depending on the circumstances can be downright terrifying. And yet, for me, it’s only when I’ve allowed myself to stand still in my own doubt that I have discovered answers and meaning and hope again. In fact, in their new little book, Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia For All That Is, Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams name doubt in the second chapter as something for which we should give profound thanks. For as they write,
There is simply a point in life when reason fails to satisfy our awareness of what is clearly unreasonable and clearly real at the same time — like love and self-sacrifice and trust and good. Data does not exist to explain these unexplainable things. Then only the doubt that opens our hearts to what we cannot comprehend, only the doubt that makes us rabidly pursue the truth, only the doubt that moves us beyond complacency, only the doubt that corrects mythologies not worthy of faith can lead us to the purer air of spiritual truth. Then we are ready to move beyond the senses into the mystical, where faith shows us those penetrating truths the eye cannot see. (p. 17)
We do sometimes recognize one another by our scars. Thomas thought he needed to see and touch his scars to be certain it was Jesus. In his quest for the truth he was not afraid to ask the hard questions which led him to an ever deeper faith. But, in the end, as the story is passed on, he didn’t need what he asked for. When Jesus simply stood right before him Thomas was able to embrace the truth of who Jesus is with all of his being. The scars told part of the story, but only part of it, it seems. I wonder though. Would Thomas have gotten to that point if he hadn’t asked the questions, if he hadn’t ‘doubted’ first? What do you think?
- Can you think of ‘scars’ that tell something about who one is and what matters most?
- What words would you put to the meaning of Jesus’ scars? What evidence of Jesus’ resurrection do you still yearn to see?
- What role has ‘doubt’ played in your journey of faith?
- What questions about your faith do you still need to pursue that you haven’t yet? Where might those questions lead you if you just let yourself ask them?
- What have been the moments in your life when along with Thomas you have embraced your faith simply with the words, “My Lord and my God!” What brought you to that place in those times?