How Jesus Used His Wounds

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Easter 2
April 16, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: The focus in John 20:19-31 should not be on Thomas, but on Jesus' willingness to take initiative to overcome Thomas' doubts. Jesus allows Thomas the most intimate of encounters, exposing the wounds in Jesus' side, to reach out to Thomas to help him overcome his doubt.

We look at this passage every year on the Sunday after Easter. The flowers have vanished. The crowd has thinned. After the joy and drama of Easter, we get on with the work of the church. The lectionary points us every year to this passage about the disciples after the resurrection. They, too, must get on with the business of being the church. Jesus gave them and us a long talk about being the church in John, chapters 13-17. Now, they start the mission.

The situation of Thomas and the disciples

They don't get off to a very good start. On the very night of the first Easter, they cower in a room, too filled with doubt to venture outside. First, Jesus appears to ten of the disciples. Jesus had promised them the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.1 True to his word, Jesus breathes on the disciples and tells them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Armed with this breath - this Advocate that will teach and empower them, this Holy Spirit that no one can contain or control - they go out into the world to spread the message, to offer forgiveness, to teach the world to believe as they have come to believe.

When we speak of believing, we turn to Thomas, the disciple who wasn't among the others when Jesus appeared first time. Thomas doesn't quite believe the other disciples. John does not tell us why he doesn't believe. Does he not trust the others? Does he think they would try to fool him? Does he think they have all just imagined what they think they saw? Would they likely all have the same crazy imagination? Thomas has earned an unfortunate nickname through the years. In popular culture, we have slapped the label of "Doubting Thomas" on him. As we said, we don't know exactly why he didn't believe the other disciples. He actually serves as a role model for us. Some of us believe things too quickly. If we read it on social media, we just accept it without question. That's how conspiracy theories spread. That's why the fact checkers try to keep us straight. Some of us may need a little more Thomas in our souls.

In any case, let's take the focus off Thomas for now. We can learn from him, and follow his example, but let's not focus on Thomas for today. Let's look instead to Jesus. How does Jesus treat Thomas, and how does Jesus treat us? Jesus wants Thomas to believe.

Jesus acts to enable faith early in John

We can go all the way back to chapter 2 to start talking about the disciples beginning to believe. Jesus has gone to a wedding in Cana of Galilee. All the evidence suggests that Jesus simply wanted to enjoy the wedding as an unnoticed guest. Something goes wrong, as often happens at a wedding. The person in charge of ordering the wine slipped up. The wine ran out. Jesus' mother tells him about the wine. He tries to beg off. "My hour has not yet come," he says.2 Nonetheless, Jesus changes the water into wine, as we all remember. The abundance of wine serves as a marker of the messianic age.3 For our purposes today, we notice that Jesus acts before he considers himself ready. Jesus changes the plan because of the need at the wedding. Jesus speeds things up because the need arises. Jesus takes account of the situation. Jesus changing the plan is one of his actions that John reports to lead his readers to faith.

In John 6, Jesus sees the crowds who have gathered. Jesus knows of their hunger. The festival of the Passover serves as the setting for this scene.4 The Passover remembers life for the people, as the angel of death passes over them. It remembers the formation of the community. In the setting, Jesus feeds the people. John never tells us how Jesus changed water into wine, or how Jesus multiplied the food. Jesus fed those who needed food, who experienced hunger. Jesus knew that celebrating the Passover would not go as well if the people's stomachs growled. If we can assume that Jesus wanted them to celebrate the Passover rightly, he wanted them fed first.

In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man, and afterward, Jesus leads him to believe. The man endures much before he comes to believe. The Pharisees dismiss him. At that point, the formerly blind man considers Jesus to be a prophet. The man endures his own parents waffling about what had happened. They won't back him up. Then he gets the third degree from the religious leaders.

When Jesus encounters him after all that, the healed man is not quite ready to believe. He doesn't quite know if Jesus is the Son of Man. Jesus shows him patience. Jesus says to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he."5 At that point the man believes. In each of these stories, to create faith, Jesus accommodates the needs of the people.

What it means in John to believe

In John, to believe is to trust, to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of Man, that his miracles are signs of God working through him. To believe is not a static thing. One does not stop with believing. Jesus calls the church to bear fruit. The church resembles a vine that remains in Jesus, so that it can bear fruit.6 We as the church bear fruit by feeding the hungry as Jesus did in chapter 6. We bear fruit when we show love. If we love, we work for justice for those whom life has crushed under its thumb. Believing means to survive trouble, to draw on the peace that Jesus offers in the midst of difficult circumstances.7

Consistently, throughout John, Jesus meets people where they are. Jesus takes account of their reasons to doubt, to not understand. Jesus changes the plan to meet the needs of others. Jesus does not scold or shame those who do not believe.

The risen Christ leads Thomas to faith

When we come to this passage about the 10 disciples and then about Thomas, we see that Jesus accommodates Thomas's needs in order to bring Thomas to faith. Jesus appears again to the disciples, including Thomas. Thomas has not softened his stance in a week. Jesus does not wait for Thomas to ask to see the nail marks. Jesus takes the initiative: "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side." The risen Christ offers Thomas the most intimate of invitations.

We could ask why Jesus' resurrected body still has nail marks. We think of the resurrection as a time of healing. Jesus' healings in the gospels foreshadow the healing of the resurrection. The risen Christ still has the wound in his side from the soldier's spear that pierced his body after his death. That wound has not healed over in the resurrection. The exact wound that Thomas sets as his condition for believing still exists. Thomas does not say that simply seeing Jesus resurrected would be enough. We might form a mental image of the risen Christ saying to Thomas, "Look, here I am. My wounds have healed, but you can see it is me." We might think that the risen Christ passing through a shut door would be enough, but Thomas has said specifically what it will take to overcome his doubt. The risen Christ provides Thomas with exactly that. The man we like to call "Doubting Thomas" then utters one of the clearest and boldest statements of faith in the New Testament, "My Lord and my God!"

Jesus comes to us not on his terms, but on our terms. Whatever we need to come to believe, Jesus is willing to provide. Jesus understands our doubts and reservations. We sometimes will ask God to heal a certain person, who dies despite our prayers. We don't always get what we want. Nevertheless, Jesus wants us to believe, to become disciples and to bear fruit. Jesus takes the initiative, understands the pain, grief, skepticism or tragedies that keep us from faith. Jesus will not hold against us the things that feed our doubt. Jesus will understand and heal us, even if only in spirit. Jesus does not hold out, expecting us to believe first, and then love us. Jesus will speed things up for us as at the wedding, Jesus will understand if it takes us time, like the man in chapter 9. Jesus will hear what keeps us from faith, as with Thomas. Jesus understands our lack of faith, and will make every concession to overcome it, to lead us to believe.


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