The Wound that Heals Us All

In this morning’s Gospel reading we get introduced to Thomas, who becomes doubting Thomas after missing out on Jesus’ coming back from the dead party with the other disciples. For some reason Thomas was absent from their Sunday meeting where the Risen Jesus visited them, perhaps he was justifiably already beginning to lose faith in Jesus as his savior after seeing him murdered on a Cross. Perhaps he was just mad—we don’t really know.

So when his friends tell him that Jesus is back, that he’s returned, Thomas demands proof, because a simple retelling of what they saw won’t suffice. He needs to see the marks on this man who he so vividly saw crucified. And so when they all gathered again, Thomas no doubt dragged along like a skeptical and pouting teenager, Jesus walks right in and straight up to Thomas.

“Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says, “reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

When I read this again a few days ago, honestly the first thing that came to my mind was, “well goooood for Thomas—lucky for Thomas—wouldn’t it be nice”. Because we’re all Doubting Thomas’s aren’t we. We all have moments of doubt or frustration with God when God feels so distant to the point of absence. In the highs and lows of our lives we feel out of control and lost. And wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus came walking up to us after skipping church and provided the proof and hope that we all so desperately needed?

And all of this isn’t just the case when it comes to our faith. We have a fear of the unknown which certainly is not a modern problem or phenomenon but it’s one that has been exacerbated by our complete reliance on things that can be seen and tested and weighed and measured as the things in this world that can really be trusted. We want and require proof that we’re ok in every sense of the word, and to be ok certainly isn’t something we can see in a microscope. Like Thomas, we want proof that there is more to life than what we can see this side of the grave. We want proof that we’re accepted and loved and that our loved ones are ok. We won’t settle for anything less.

I’m guessing that many of you, just like me, have gone through a couple of phases in your life. When I was about 7, I became obsessed with golf by watching my dad and my brother play. I wanted to be a golfer so badly that I got a tiny little golf bag and put on a golf glove and just walked around the yard—not hitting a ball, but just trying as hard as I could to look the part.

And in middle school I briefly got my hands on a rap album by 2pac—my brother listened to it and so did some of the cool older kids in school—so I begged my mom for a pair of Timberland boots and some baggy shorts and I went back out into the yard to practice my strut. I must have thought that the entire world drove by our house because I seemed to think that I could display some proof of my cool as I comically sang “me against the world” and paced back and forth between our well-kept crab apple and magnolia trees.

And thankfully my buddy Luke saved me from a recent phase or attempt to fit in when I went off to seminary. He threatened that if I came back wearing tortoise rimmed glasses and a cardigan sweater that he wouldn’t speak to me again—not that there isn’t anything wrong with either of those fashion statements, I still seem them both in my future—but Luke knows me well enough to know that they would simply be the signs of my trying to fit in and prove myself to be someone who is smart and capable and worthy of going to graduate school.

And I’m guessing that many of you, just like me, haven’t shaken this habit of trying to prove yourself, by providing the world with evidence that we are who we say we are or who we think we are, or who we want to be. We’re looking for substance and identity in our lives. Proof that we’re interesting and exciting or honorable, or that we’re safe and everything will be ok, or simply proof that we are in fact loveable.

W H Auden wrote a really, really long poem during World War II called the “Age of Anxiety”, which was an appropriate title for that war-torn era, and unfortunately is still fitting today. The poem is about four men in a bar in New York City who are looking for answers to their fear and anxiety about war, but also the possibility that they might never become worthy of fame or affection or find meaning in their lives, and finding none they’re convinced that they must settle for distractions. Auden writes:

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play . . .

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

When life feels like this we try to create or provide evidence and demonstrate that we’re ok, that we’ve got it together, that we’re worthy of being here and receiving affection and praise. And just like the rest of you I’m desperately trying to prove myself. In fact I just tried to provide some proof of my intellectual esteem and well-rounded artistic interests by referencing a WH Auden poem that, to be honest, I’ve never read. I tried to a few years ago and about ten pages in felt bored and confused so I just read a little review a couple nights ago.

We’re all doubting Thomas’s—we all want tangible, measurable evidence that we can hold in our hands and feel and inspect and verify and present to the world—see, this is me. We want to be able to prove ourselves. To be able to demonstrate that we are who we say we are—good parents, good children, good husbands and wives. I’m a really good parent, see the honor roll bumper sticker on my car. I’m a good husband I swear—did you notice that I vacuumed the house, or see the groceries I got, or that the dog is tired because I walked him. I’ve lived a good life—look back at everything I’ve done and the legacy I’ve left behind—here is your proof.

These are the thoughts that drive our fear and haunt our thoughts when we’re inevitably dissatisfied with some lack of certainty.

And this is where the Gospel comes in:

When Jesus shows Thomas the wounds in his side so that he may believe, it is more than a tangible experience that we might all long for when our faith in God fails us, when Thomas puts his fingers in Jesus’ side he is putting his finger on the very thing that proves us all, once and for all, to be the people we so desperately want to prove ourselves to be—to be loved, to be loveable.

While we seem to fail, time and time again, to create our own sustained happiness, to reconcile our relationships and justify ourselves, Doubting Thomas has put his hands in the marks of the Crucifixion. He has touched the very wound that heals us all. He has touched the proof that has freed us all to stop having to prove ourselves, and to simply rest in the knowledge and tangible and weighty evidence that we are loved, that we are forgiven, and that we are free and it is finished.

And believe me, I’m still right there with you at times, wishing I could have this tangible moment like Thomas, touching Christ and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt. But the Good News of the Gospel is that this love and mercy that prove us to be forgiven, blessed children of God is a true and present reality, whether our faith is strong or not. Jesus came to Thomas, not because Thomas had proven his worthiness or that he was a good person, or carried with him some evidence of a robust faith and life well-lived. Jesus came to Thomas because he didn’t have anything at all.

And it’s this same God who died for Thomas, rose again from death for Thomas, and who revealed himself to Thomas despite Thomas’ lack of faith—it’s the same God who gives you all the proof and evidence in the world that you need to know that you are a forgiven, beloved child of God. A person who God believes in, whether you believe it or not.