...“henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Galations 6:17
The most odd thing about the Gospel accounts, are the all-too-human incidentals left in as part of the story. Like the original ending of the Gospel of Mark. The oldest two existing manuscripts conclude the last chapter at verse eight, when the women had just witnessed Jesus resurrected at the tomb. The account ends with “and they ran away and didn’t tell anybody, because they were terrified.” Now that sounds about right. It is how you or I might react to the same scenario. But people always want to ‘fix’ stories a bit to make them better. Bible scholars believe that verses nine to nineteen were tacked on by scribes copying the manuscripts later on, because they thought the original ending was a dud.
There is also something odd about the story where Jesus appears to doubting Thomas and tells him to touch the wounds on his hands, and on his side. In a perfect story, what makes more sense to me, is that your resurrected body would be kind of like Superman and dump its flaws first thing. Why carry around the same old scars in a new body? It could have gone like this if you were playing to the audience... and Jesus showed up with no scars at all. “Hurt me?” he laughs, scornfully. Then Jesus and a hundred angels who are built like marines round up the Pharisees and....” Oh wait. That’s not how it goes. Jesus did have scars? It might be the sort of odd and unnecessary detail which makes the story real. And those kind of accounts are always better than anything you might try to massage later on.
We all have scars. People like to show them off at parties. It makes for some good stories because scars give you street cred. They show that you have spent some time in the trenches along with the rest of humanity. Most scars come from doing things you knew were stupid up front.
It’s not just physical scars. It seems that most people have some secret or another that they are just dying to confess, but cannot. They fear that if their deepest flaws were to be disclosed, people could not love them, or respect them. It’s kind of sad, to imagine this whole hidden world of secrets, floating around somewhere behind the wall of what we see as reality. God must look at it all and just catch His breath. Those private sorrows keep us all at arm’s length, when really, they could be the thing that most ties us together.
My suspicion might best be supported by what was called the Post Secrets project. It was a community art experiment started in 2005 whereby people were encouraged to mail in their deepest darkest secret, written on the back of a post card. The idea was that you would get the relief of unburdening yourself, they would get a juicy and unusual secret that had never seen the light of day. The idea was a phenomenal success, and was published in a few successive of coffee table books. The project is still going strong online. You can find it at www.postsecret.com.
Confession is good for the soul, or so they say. That has not stopped people from going to the grave with secrets. I know, I have found out a few about my own dead relatives. Such disclosures, especially after death, make you think differently about people, but ultimately it seems to weigh in their favour I think. It turns them into someone relatable. They were human, just like you and me.
Still, life seems to be a bit more like the sign on the cash register, God forgives but all others pay in cash. You see, most people know from sad experience that there are real reasons to fear our flaws. They can get us fired at work. They can get us divorced from those who know us best. The fact is, that most of us will repent at leisure for those things we have done wrong, are ashamed of, for the relationships we have screwed up, and the times we have disappointed. The sacrament of reconciliation is designed to remove that fear going forward, once things are in the hands of God. At least with God, you hope things can proceed differently.
It could be that the forgiveness we most crave is also what we are most afraid to ask for. There are those who are terrified to hear the words ‘I love you’ just in case they might not be true, the quarrels you had with someone in the past that you fear cannot be fixed. There can be a whole laundry list of things that pile up that may have no real resolution in our lifetime. As Jesus said, it may be impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but for God all things are possible. One can only hope.
Our scars proclaim that human suffering is real, and that is why it is good to share. We are most wounded by our own mistakes, but maybe God is wounded too. His willingness to make himself vulnerable proclaims this. Perhaps that is why Jesus had to show doubting Thomas his scars, because such shared wounds are the ones most likely to bring us all home. It may also explain the story where Jesus encountered the paralytic and everyone was waiting for the miracle. But Jesus looked at the man and saw his deepest need instead. The first words out of his mouth were the least expected... “Your sins are forgiven”. We all dread the path of reconciliation, but what we find there might actually outdo anything we are able to dream up on our own - a God who really, really wants to make us all whole.