Wounds to Heal Wounds
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them,
"Peace be with you." But they were startled and terrified and thought that
they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet,
that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh
and bones as you can see I have." And as he said this, he showed them his
hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were
amazed, he asked them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a
piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
He said to them, "These are my words and that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."
"Incredulous for joy" is the phrase that St. Luke uses to describe the disciples' reaction when they saw the risen Lord. Could this really be happening? Could he really be back from the dead - not just a ghost, not just a figment of my imagination, but truly back from the dead, standing right before me in the flesh?
We might wonder why this was so unexpected for the disciples, especially given the fact that Christ told them several times, plainly and explicitly, that he would die and on the third day rise. But let's not underestimate how difficult it was for his disciples to believe this. It is easy for a mind to be locked into a limited way of thinking. You may have had, for instance, a difficult problem in your life that you couldn't see a way out of no matter how many hours you spent racking your brain. Maybe it was only after seeking someone else's help (usually someone with a bit of wisdom and a more objective perspective) that you realized that you only were considering certain possibilities. You were fixating on them, spinning your wheels in the mud. All the while there was another solution just beyond the horizon of your thought.
More formidable than any other problem we face is the reality of death. Death is a horizon past which none of us here can see. For the disciples in the aftermath of Good Friday, this seemed to be the end. It was all over. That Jesus could be back alive, was inconceivable. Not just impossible, but inconceivable.
Hence, when they do see him and are told to touch and see his hands and feet, they are still "incredulous for joy." Our Lord wants to remove all doubt from their minds. Not only does he show them his hands and feet, but also he eats a fish right in front of them, as if to say, "Make no mistake. This is real. You're not dreaming."
He showed them his hands and feet. This detail is not mentioned by accident. He could have shown them his face, his eyes, his elbows - but it is his hands and feet that the Gospel specifically mentions. This highlights, of course, the importance of his wounds. The marks made by the nails remained on his risen body, revealing that the man in front of them now is the same man who was nailed to the cross.
When St. Augustine once preached on this passage, he said to his congregation, "With his wounds healed, with his scars kept, did he rise from the tomb. For he judged that this was advantageous for his disciples, that his scars should be kept, from where the wounds of the heart would be healed. What wounds? The wounds of unbelief."
We often think of wounds primarily in physical, psychological or emotional terms. St. Augustine is identifying unbelief as another sort of wound that needs to be healed. It is a wound "of the heart" - not just psychological or emotional, but deep within the person - that is healed by Christ's kept scars. This wound of unbelief is a lack of true vision. It could be simple ignorance, as when divine truth has not yet been encountered. It could be resistance to or rejection of divine truth, as when one's vision is clouded by other sins. In any case, the unbelieving mind is limited to its own horizon, unable to see beyond it to the supernatural.
In the Gospel today, we are able to glimpse that wound in the disciples just as it is being healed. St. Augustine continues, "But do we think that the disciples were not wounded because they were healed so quickly?" Yet if they had remained wounded in their unbelief, "not their wounds, but their death would have to be mourned."
This wound of the heart is no light wound; it leads to death. Faith heals the wound and leads to eternal life in Christ.
By his wounds and scars, Christ healed the wounds of the apostles' unbelief. Then he said to them, "You are witnesses of these things." They bore witness to Christ's resurrection to the ends of the earth, even to their death, so that we here today may have the same apostolic faith. Through their courageous witness, Christ's wounds healed and scars kept continue to heal our wounds of unbelief today.