5 Reasons for 5 Scars

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B.

Every scar has a story. Every scar says something about our past. Some scars we’re proud of; some we’re embarrassed or ashamed of; others have become such a part of who we are that we don’t really think about them anymore. Of this third kind of scar, I have two: one on my upper lip and another on my head. Both are from surgeries I had when I was born and then again in third grade to repair my congenital cleft lip and palate. I’m not really proud of these scars, though they have come in handy at times. When I was in grade school, and I wanted to impress someone, I could say that the scar on my lip was from a fight during a hockey game. When I was in high school, if someone was making fun of me for being smart, I could show them the scar on my head and tell them, in very solemn and serious tones, that I had had a chip implanted in my brain that gave me direct access to Google. Surprisingly, people believed me. Later on in high school, I was asked if I’d ever want my scars surgically removed, especially the more prominent one on my lip. And I decided to let them be. They were part of my past; they were part of who I was.

In both last week’s account from the Gospel of John, and this week’s account from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appears to His apostles in His resurrected body. And His body, although otherwise transfigured with radiant beauty and glorious perfection, still bears the scars of His crucifixion: two on his hands, two on his feet, and one on his side. “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” Jesus asks His apostles in our gospel today. “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.” Jesus shows them His hands and His feet, and they behold his scars, shining like precious rubies. We often take this for granted: the fact that Jesus kept the scars when He rose from the dead. He didn’t have to, but He chose to. So why did He keep the scars on His resurrected body? St. Thomas Aquinas gives us five reasons: five reasons for five scars.

First, Jesus kept the scars to confirm His apostle’s faith in the resurrection. At the time of Jesus, there were many different opinions about what happened after death. Some believed that death was the end, that there was no afterlife for either soul or body. Some believed that death was the end of the body, but that the soul would survive in a shadowy underworld known as “Sheol.” Some believed that soul and body would eventually be reunited in a general resurrection at the end of time. But even among those who believed this, not everyone thought that you’d get your same body back. Some thought that you might receive a completely new body, and so the general resurrection would be more like a general reincarnation. In keeping His scars when He rose from the dead, Jesus was not only confirming His apostles’ faith in the resurrection of the body, but in the continuity of that resurrected body. The resurrected body that stood before them on Easter Sunday, though transfigured with radiant beauty and glorious perfection, was the same body that was nailed and pierced on Good Friday. It was a changed body, not a completely different one—a transformation of the past, not an erasure of it. This is the kind of resurrection Jesus wanted His apostles to have faith in; for it would be the kind of resurrection that they too would experience one day.

Second, Jesus kept the scars as a sign of His victory over sin and death. A solider who is wounded by the enemy, but survives the assault, wears his scar as a red badge of courage, a trophy that proclaims his victory. Jesus’ scars are His battle trophies, His red badges of courage. Satan tried to defeat Him, sin and death tried to overwhelm Him, but He prevailed. And His scars proclaim His victory. One day, if we invite Jesus into our own wounds, our scars will be signs not of defeat but victory. Every sin, every death leaves a wound. We know this to be true. And we have been wounded by our own sins and the sins of others. We have also been wounded by the death of our loved ones. But if we invite Jesus into these wounds, if we allow Him to defeat sin and despair in our own lives, then these scars will one day be our own battle trophies, our own red badges of courage. Suppose a man struggles with lust. His sins of lust wound him deeply. And he is ashamed of those wounds. If that man invites Jesus into those wounds, if he allows Jesus to defeat that sin of lust in his life, then one day, if that man makes it to heaven, his scars will be a sign not of failure, but of victory. He will glory in his scars, not hide them in shame.

Third, Jesus kept the scars to convict us of our sins and what they have done. The resurrection transforms the past but does not erase it. When we look upon the resurrected Christ, we see the one whom we have pierced by our sins (Cf. Zechariah 12:10). His scars remind us, and convict us, of what we have done. Peter’s words of admission in our first reading are meant for us as well, not just the inhabitants of Jerusalem. For we were the ones who handed over Jesus. We denied the Holy and Righteous one. The author of life we put to death. Jesus was nailed and pierced for our sins just as much as anyone else’s. If we repent of our sins, Jesus’ scars no longer convict us, but encourage us. But if we do not repent, and remain unrepentant until the end, Jesus’ scars will stand in judgment against us on the last day. His scars will speak to us and say, “See what you have done. And see what I was willing to do for you to save you from what you have done. And yet you did not accept my salvation.”

Fourth, Jesus kept the scars to show them to the Father when He intercedes on our behalf. We read in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus is able to save those who draw near to the Father through Him, for He lives forever to intercede on their behalf (Hebrews 7:25). In heaven, Jesus intercedes for us with His Heavenly Father. He begs for mercy on our behalf. His shows His wounds to the Father, and says to Him, “Look at my hands and my feet. Look at my side. See how much you loved them. See the price you were willing to pay for them. Abba, Father, save your people. Show them mercy.” When the Father looks upon you, when He looks upon me, He does not do so except through the open wounds of His resurrected Son. Jesus shows the Father His scars, and the Father shows us mercy. Think about that the next time you go to confession: At the moment of absolution, Jesus is showing the Father His scars. He is showing them to Him on your behalf. He is saying to the Father, “See how much you loved them. See the price you were willing to pay for them. Abba, Father, save them. Show them mercy.”

Fifth, Jesus kept the scars to dispel any doubts about His love and mercy for us. Jesus told St. Faustina, “My heart is sorrowful, because even chosen souls do not understand the greatness of My mercy. Their relationship [with me] is…imbued with mistrust. Oh, how much that wounds my Heart! Remember my passion, and if you do not believe My words, at least believe My wounds” (Diary of St. Faustina n. 379). Jesus loves us. And He has mercy enough for every sin we’ve committed and ever will commit. And if you do not believe those words, believe the wounds. Jesus kept the scars to dispel any doubt of His love and mercy for us. For the greatest evil that can afflict us is sin, and the effect of sin which is death. And by His wounds He Has saved us from both. What unfathomable love and inexhaustible mercy!

In just a short while, we will have the opportunity to receive the resurrected Christ in Holy Communion. The precious Body we receive still bears the scars of the crucifixion, signs of Jesus’ love, mercy, and victory over sin and death. As we receive Holy Communion, may Jesus say to us, as He said to His apostles on that first Easter Sunday, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.” Amen.