After eight days, Jesus came in and stood among them (John 20:18-31).
The reflection for this Sunday’s Gospel is a homily by Jesuit priest, Fr Richard Leonard, and is printed here with kind permission. Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting, is a member of the Australian Catholic Media Council and is author of Preaching to the Converted, Paulist Press, New York, 2006.
The earliest Christian community focused strongly on the wounds of the Risen Lord for two reasons: to affirm the fact that Christ, now raised from the dead was the same person who had lived with them; and to make sense of the physical wounds being inflicted on them for Christ's sake.
The story of Thomas, even with its mystical details, counters a magical notion of what the resurrection is about. Jesus bears the marks of his torture and death. His glorified body, though different, is connected to how the disciples knew and loved him. They can recognise him through his words and his wounds.
We know the community of Ephesus, for which this Gospel is written, was experiencing great persecution. Is it any wonder, one generation after the earliest disciples, that the sign of Christ's Risen presence are his marks of suffering?
Our own world continues to be intrigued by manifestations of Jesus' wounds. Over recent years films like Stigmata, Dogma, Agnes of God and even the appalling Daredevil give a hysterical and cynical prominence to the stigmata. There are regular ‘believe it or not’ documentaries that usually follow suit. Even some pilgrims flocked to Padre Pio's monastery in the south of Italy to see if his hands really bled, or if his wounds really wept. This desire to see outward signs of inner faith is a long way short of Jesus telling us today, ‘Happy are those who believe without seeing.’
Our day-to-day lives should be the clearest manifestation of the cross and resurrection of Christ.
It seems, however, that words and wounds still make a claim on us today. You and I know that we don't have to go to a stigmatic to see Christian battle wounds. We carry within us the death of the Lord. We all have our wounds. And we also know that, for many of us, it is precisely when we are wounded most deeply by life, that our doubts in the presence of God can be greatest.
The Easter story is not that we should be ashamed of this, or pretend it doesn't happen. Today's Gospel reminds us that it is into this chaos that Christ comes with words of peace, with empathy from the one who was wounded for our sake and with the mission to forgive as we are forgiven.
Years ago I remember struggling with some personal issues during a retreat. One day, when I felt lowest about myself, the retreat director, adapting today's psalm, 117, said to me, ‘you realise that the stone rejected by the builder becomes the corner stone’. By this he meant that often God takes that part of ourselves we don't like, forgives it, heals it, and uses it most powerfully to demonstrate that the pattern of the life, death and resurrection of Christ continues in all believers who bear his name and carry his wounds.
And that's what happened to Thomas. Christ took his fears, doubts and disbelief and transformed them into a powerful Christian witness that has sustained generations of us who struggle with life and faith.
So at this Easter Eucharist we are offered the same opportunity to discover that the stone rejected within us, or among us, is the one which God wants to use as the cornerstone. When we see this happening, when we see God taking the part of us we consider most unlovable and using it for good, then we want to cry out with the psalmist, ‘This is the work of the Lord, a marvel in our eye.
© Richard Leonard