2016-05-19 - Touching the Scars
The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." And after eight days, His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!" Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing." And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20:25-28, NKJV
A recent conversation in my counseling office brought this passage to mind. I looked it up this morning, because there was one aspect of the story I wasn’t sure about. What I wanted to know was, “Did he actually do it? Did Thomas actually touch Jesus’ scars or not?” I was hoping the Bible would say something like, “Then Thomas reached out and touched the wounds on Jesus’ hands.”
That’s not what I read, though. When they met for the first time since His death, Jesus said to Thomas, "Go ahead. Touch my hands & my side." I don't know if this was a gentle challenge for Thomas to follow through on his words, or just Jesus saying He was willing to let Thomas make physical contact, if that was what his friend and follower really needed, to be sure. Either way, Jesus was clearly inviting Thomas to take this action, giving him permission.
So there was Thomas, in that moment, and what did he do? It says he saw Jesus and the wounds, and declared his belief that the man before him was Jesus raised from the dead. I could be wrong here, but I take this to mean the physical contact didn’t happen. I felt disappointed when I read this. I really wanted confirmation that Thomas reached out and touched Jesus' wounds. Even if it wasn’t necessary for him to believe the way he’d thought, I wish he’d still been willing to physically feel where the nails had been. I kind of wish Jesus had gently insisted that Thomas do what he’d said he would do, and hadn't let him off the hook.
I wonder if there was more to this than Thomas just believing and deciding the “touch verification thing” wasn’t necessary. I think maybe Thomas chickened out. Maybe, faced with the reality of actually having to take that next step, it was just too real for Thomas. Touch is very powerful. Maybe he flinched from that discomfort, because it would have literally put him in skin-to-skin contact with the pain Jesus experienced.
Sometimes, to know someone's pain more fully and to feel it more completely, maybe we need to be willing to actually touch their scars. There's something extraordinarily real about touch. To literally touch the source of someone's physical or emotional pain may be so overwhelming and powerful that we are scared to do it. We don’t want to feel their pain that deeply because of the impact it will have on our own emotional response. We shy away from it to protect ourselves. But if the wounded are that vulnerable, if they are willing to allow us to see and feel their scars, perhaps they deserve our vulnerability in return. How willing are we to be uncomfortable and to get close enough to risk feeling what they feel? Whether it is is more metaphoric or literal, doing this might make us braver than Thomas was. I want to be braver.
Jesus endured so much physical and psychological punishment, out of love, and to give freedom. May we know that fully, embrace it, and accept that His real scars were a gift of love and sacrifice. May we treat others in ways that help them know His scars can help heal their own scars, even when that means we need to get close enough to feel their pain, even when the realness of that pain makes us uncomfortable.