Mary, Thomas, and the body, broken

John 20:11-29

11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her. 19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.

21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

This is not just the story of Thomas, but the story of Mary, and the disciples, and it’s a story of violence and recovery, of the body and power.

Mary does not recognize Jesus – really recognize him – until he speaks to her; nor does Thomas. She does not touch him, and nor does Thomas. Caravaggio is wrong.incredulity-of-saint-thomas-1602

John wants us to believe that Jesus’s body – the resurrected body – is somehow distant from our own. He is no longer immediately recognizable. He can pass through locked doors. But in one way the body is still familiar; in one way does Thomas attempt to reach it. It still bears the marks of Roman violence.

Mary weeps because “they” have taken Jesus away. She feels helpless and alone, standing solitary before some vast and unreasonable mechanic of oppression. Her first response is often ours as well: despair. She perceives the vanishing of Jesus’s body not as a possibility for hope but a sign that indeed, the world is as unreasonably cruel as she might imagine, and that there is no escape from the irrationality of abuse, even in death.

She is not alone. The disciples fear too. They spend their days after the death of Jesus locked away, expecting the same systems of power which had killed their teacher to come for them as well, to break down their shut door and assassinate them.

And so does Thomas. Especially Thomas. He, like us, has made his peace with death. He denies protest against it. He rejects the suggestion that it may be resisted. He has seen Jesus slain and has accepted it as the way of the world. Death is painful, yes, but Thomas does not believe it can be beaten.

Indeed, John Dear has suggested that Thomas does not doubt but fears, fears what it might mean should the reality of resurrection be true.

And then Jesus tells him to touch the prints in his hand and side, and to be “not faithless, but believing.”

The body may be unrecognizable, but the wounds are not. Indeed, Thomas had seen those wounds before: he had seen them in the blind man, in the paralytic, in the lepers and the poor, the woman with the issue of blood and the hungry whom Jesus fed. He saw those wounds and now he recognized them and he believed.

In John 14, at the Last Supper, Thomas said “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Then he did not know.

Now, upon seeing the wounds of Christ, Thomas answers and addresses Jesus as “My Lord and my God.” John’s gospel was likely written during or immediately after the reign of the Emperor Domitian, who according to NT Wright claimed that title. Thomas not only believes; he now understands what it means to believe.  The reign of death, of violence, of fear has come to an end in the resurrection of Jesus.  The reign of Roman power, premised on oppression, must end.

Jesus’s wounds are a violence done to the body of Christ, the body of which Paul instructs us we are all a part. The body is not healed yet, but it can yet be resurrected. And the body resurrected, as Jesus tells the disciples who have locked themselves in a cage of fear, must be peace unto us all.

Comments

  1. Jason K. says:

    Gorgeous, Matt. Thank you!

  2. J. Stapley says:

    The body is not healed yet, but it can yet be resurrected.

    Amen. Love this, Matt. Thanks.

  3. I really liked this, especially the part about Thomas recognizing the wounds as those he’d seen in the blind/paralyzed/leprous/etc. But, I’m really struggling with the last paragraph. What solace are we to find in it? If Jesus’s post-resurrection body retained its wounds, and we are the body of Christ, what does that tell us about our yet-to-come resurrection? Is our only hope that we’ll be immortal, yet forever scarred by the atrocities of mortality? What am I missing?

  4. Chris: Thanks, and forgive my laggardness. It may help to think of the body here as not simply the body of each resurrected person – but rather, the body of Christ on earth as all of us, the human race, still marked by the wounds of our sin even as we profess his name.