Jesus of the Scars: A Good Friday Reflection
Scars are an interesting thing, aren’t they? We all have them. Most of them are hidden; many of them are invisible. Whether they come from physical or emotional wounds, our natural tendency is to hide them. There’s an embarrassment that comes from scars. A reminder of hard things. A picture of our imperfections. Take a moment, think about where yours are.
Someday we will be nothing but a scar, when the wound of death leaves its final mark.
I don’t know what it is about me, but throughout my life people naturally show me their scars. It was my first grade classmate whom the school brought me into his counseling sessions because I was the only person he would talk to. It’s the complete stranger who’s spilling his guts and then suddenly says, “I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.” It’s the person I visit in the hospital who is compelled to pull back their bandage and show me the wound. It’s strange.
But it's never as strange as it would be if someone told me to put my finger into their wound. And then if I hesitated, grabbed my finger and pressed it into the wound.
That’s the very picture we get in John 20. After Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to his disciples, we read these words:
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29
If that description is not vivid enough in itself, pair it with this painting from the 16th century Italian artist Carravagio. He called it “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”. What stands out to me is the compassion and yet determination reflected in Jesus as he pulls Thomas’ finger into the gaping hole in his side. And then also how Thomas looks resistant and disturbed at the experience. In the words of my wife, “Honestly, this painting kinda grosses me out.” If it does the same for you, then I’m sorry / not sorry.
The reason why I use this passage and painting is to draw your attention to the reality that the risen Lord Jesus, in the perfections of his glorified body, is still a scarred man. The scars in his hands and feet where the nails were driven, and the scar in his side where the spear pierced, these “were actually the main way he confirmed to his disciples that it was truly him.” Mary didn’t recognize him in the garden; the disciples didn’t recognize him on the road to Emmaus; the apostles didn’t recognize him in the upper room. His resurrected body was so transformed that I suppose he looked that different. Thus the most earthy thing left to him were very obvious and very disturbing scars.
Pastor David Mathis writes, “If Luke and John didn’t tell us about the scars, we likely would assume that a glorified, resurrected body wouldn’t have any. At first thought, scars seem like a surprising feature of perfected, new-world humanity. In fact, they sound initially like a defect...That Luke and John testify so plainly to Jesus’s resurrection scars must mean they are not a defect, but a glory.”
We see hints of this all throughout the book of Revelation. In Revelation 5:6 we are introduced to Jesus the “lamb standing as though it had been slain”. From there, the slain lamb is then referred to over and over. How does a lamb stand as though it had been slain? The same way Jesus stood in the midst of his disciples, with the scars of his slaying.
For those who put their hope in what Jesus accomplished on the cross, and bank their life on the belief that he rose from the dead, the day will come of which he referred to Mary, that we will be able to cling to him. Hug him, shake his hand, hold his hand, wave at him across the room, feel his arm around your shoulder as you laugh together, kick a soccer ball, skip rocks, sit with your feet in the waves. And yet all the while the scars will be visible, touchable, unhidden. Why? So that we never get over what he did so that we could be with him. Not as a reminder that pulls us into embarrassment, but as a glory that leads us into ever-deepening affection and wonder and trust.
Pastor and poet Edward Shillito captured this during World War I when he wrote a poem titled “Jesus of the Scars”:
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
Friends, there is nothing in all this world that, instead of making you take scars for it, takes the scars for you. Would you trust in him today?