Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. Most of us bear scars. I have one on my knee where I fell as a kid. For others it could be a scar caused by a cut, a belt of a hurl or a burn. For most of us, the scars we carry are invisible. They could have been caused by a huge disappointment, being rejected, a terrible betrayal or even abuse or violence. What all of us have in common is that whether our scars are visible on our bodies or invisible on our souls, we try to hide them. But is this always wise?
Several Gospel accounts of the resurrection say that when Jesus appeared to his friends, he showed them his scars. He showed them his five wounds – two in his hands, two in his feet and the wound in his side. Why did Jesus do this? While we try to hide our scars, the Lord wants his friends to see those on his body.
Here are three possible reasons. The first is that Jesus wants us to know that he is still in touch with our humanity. He invited his disciples to touch him, to speak with him and eat with him. ‘See for yourselves, a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have’. With these words Jesus says to us: ‘I know your humanity from the inside out. Now that I am risen, I am still close to you, closer than ever, but not as a ghost but still as a brother and a friend’. Christianity is and remains a religion immersed in human history, reality and everyday life. It touches and transforms everything, even the wounds of humanity.
The second reason Jesus showed us his wounds is because he wants us to know how much his love for the world cost him. The more expensive the gift the more grateful we are for it. God’s mercy is free but it did not come cheap. In a world gone wrong, in order to set it right, there must be sacrifice. And what a sacrifice Jesus paid. But the cross was the price he was willing to pay if it meant that we might be free and become more perfect in love. Every time we are tempted to think that his love is no big deal or take it for granted, contemplate his scars. They teach us just how deep that love is and how much it endured. In the words of St. Bonaventure: ‘Through the visible wounds we see the wounds of invisible love’ (The Mind’s Journey to God, 3, 5).
The third reason Jesus shows us his scars is to give us hope. It means our God is scarred too, just like us. His scars, like ours, tell a story. They tell a story of hurt and suffering. But his scars assure us that we were stronger than whatever hurt us. His scars are not the marks of defeat but the marks of victory over sin, death and the worst thing that can happen. His scars teach us that it is impossible to love in life without getting scars along the way but that we shouldn’t be afraid of that because although every scar tells a story of hurt, it is a story that reminds us that we have survived. And although our scars remind us of our past, they do not control our future.
Friends, we are all scarred and there is a freedom in admitting that. Rather than being embarrassed by our scars they can be constant reminders of lessons in life and in love. Jesus teaches us this when he shows us his scars – that we are all human and bruise easily; the depth of Christ’s love and the price he paid to save us; that we are stronger than whatever hurt us. ‘By his wounds we have been healed’ (1 Pet. 2:24).
‘O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center!
How gently and lovingly
You wake in my heart,
Where in secret you dwell alone;
And in your sweet breathing,
Filled with good and glory,
How tenderly You swell my heart with love’.
St John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, 1, 4.