Thomas, Wounds, and the Ripple Effect


Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20: 27-29)

Whenever I think of this passage, I think of the Caravaggio painting that represents this moment. An aspect of the painting that I am especially drawn to is that Thomas’ own clothing mirrors the shape of Jesus’s wounded side. It suggests that as Thomas is looking at, and touching Jesus, he is also seeing some of his own wounded self in Jesus. Thomas and the other disciples have just gone through a traumatic experience in witnessing the arrest, torture, and death of Jesus. They also are wounded, not physically, but psychologically, as we can see from their being holed up in the upper room with a locked door.

When Jesus invites Thomas to touch, he invites him not only to see that Jesus really is resurrected and healed but also to see that healing is possible. Thomas sees that his Lord and his friend is healed. He also witnesses that wounds can be transformed. Like many human wounds, healing is more a matter of transformation than the elimination of all traces of history. The Resurrection is not about the obliteration of the past from memory, but rather about its transformation into something healed and even fruitful.

Several years ago, I was visiting a group of men with whom I lead study and spiritual sharing in prison. Among other comments that I had made is that Jesus’s hands look like our own hands: he carries the marks of having been wounded even into his own resurrected body so that we can remember and identify with both his woundedness and with his resurrection. We can see that he knew suffering and  we can see that the suffering was transformed, in that visibility of his wounds.

Near the end of the session, one of the men sitting next to me, who is a talented artist, showed me a picture of a hand touching a pool of water, that was rippling out from the touch. The hand had a healed wound in the center. He kindly told me that this was a picture of my hand, and that my visits and sharing had a “ripple” effect in helping them also to think about their own healing and transformation.

John’s story about the encounter between Jesus and the other disciples, especially Thomas, reminds us that we are participants in a kind of “ripple effect” whereby the suffering and Resurrection of Jesus leads to our own smaller “resurrections” even in this life, and when we bring that experience into our own ministries, whatever those are, and deal kindly and compassionately with others, we pass on the faith and hope that also encourage others’ resurrection experiences. While we ourselves are not the Healer, our presence and our allowing our whole selves—gifts, wounds, and all—to be part of ministry opens up a space for faith and for hope to flourish.