The week I moved into Illinois State University as a nervous and excited seventeen-year-old freshman, our RA (kind of an upper-classman floor leader) started an icebreaker for the guys living on the seventh floor of Atkin Hall. He called it “scar wars.” We went around the circle and when it was your turn you had to show a scar and tell its story. He was a mountain bike racer so he won - no wonder he liked the game. Some of us had a bunch of big scars with big stories, some had none really worth mentioning. I suppose I was in between somewhere.
The guys with big scars - would you expect that they felt embarrassed and ashamed? Like “wow, I really should’ve been more careful so I wouldn’t have these unsightly blemishes on my skin.” On the other hand, were the scar-less young men boasting of their unblemished exterior, and proud to have successfully avoided those injuries?
Of course not! Exactly the opposite. Those with the biggest scars were most eager to show them. Those who had no scars worth mentioning spoke with noticeable embarrassment.
I remember a sermon by Bishop Bruskewitz in Lincoln, Nebraska. He talked about the moment we stand at the gates of heaven, the moment we stand before the Lord with all our lives and all we are laid bare. Just as Thomas asked to see the scars of Jesus, the Bishop said, what if Jesus asked to see ours? Imagine Jesus telling you, “show me your scars.” And if you have none to show, no scars at the end of your life, can’t you then imagine Jesus asking you, “wasn’t there anything worth fighting for?”
Obviously he wasn’t just talking about physical scars. Many Christians have been physically scarred and worse, much worse, for the name of Jesus. But there are scars of the heart, broken open when loving others inevitably brings hurt, scars of the spirit, crushed over and over by the vast difference between the way things are and the way they ought to be. There is a lot worth fighting for. Happy are those with the scars to show for it.
Whatever else Thomas may be thinking or feeling, he's a man who's been in a fight. The man is scarred. He's seen the bad guys win. He's seen the good guys fail. He's seen a beautiful good cause crushed and he's seen his friend tortured to death. Call him doubting Thomas if you like, but call him also grieving Thomas, hurting Thomas. He wasn’t able to just take their word for it when they said they’d seen Jesus risen. Maybe more than anything it was just that very human resistance to letting your hopes get raised… because you can’t bear the thought of them possibly being crushed.
But when Jesus returns, and Thomas gets to see Him like the others already did, how does he recognize Him? How is he able to believe? Because of His scars.
I can relate very much and maybe you can, too. It’s so easy to look at this world, and all the injustice, and all the crucified innocents, and say: “No, I can’t believe. This God I’ve been told about, where is He?” But He shows up with scars… and I can buy that. I can worship a God with scars.
This is one of several powerful stories in the Gospels about how people come to recognize Jesus after His Resurrection. There’s Mary Magdalene, who recognizes Him the moment she hears Him speak her name. Beautiful! There’s the ones who take the testimony of others — blessed are they who believe without seeing! There’s the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. These are each incredibly profound. But among them, I’m so glad we’re given this story about how Thomas recognized the Lord by His scars.
If you ever find yourself struggling to believe, burdened with doubt, try Thomas’ way. Go to the place where you hurt. Go to the place that is marked and branded by the price you have paid. The struggles, the battles you’ve fought and are still fighting. Jesus Christ is there. I promise you. Look within your wounds. Jesus is there.
He sits at the Father’s right hand, and He sits there with scars. One day I hope to show Him mine, and say these are from the things worth fighting for. And He will show me His, and say these are because you were worth fighting for.