Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Bearing the scars
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the April 9, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
What is the first thing you look for when shown a picture or figurine of the Risen Lord Jesus? I find my eyes dancing immediately to his wrists. A quick judgment made about the piece’s aesthetic value, I am ready to make a less inspirational judgment. I want to know if the piece before me makes a “culturally correct” presentation of the crucifixion. Are the nail marks in the palms of the hand or in the wrists? Like a Doubting Thomas, I want to see!
Contemporary studies seem to indicate that crucifixion by the Romans often required the piercing of the wrists (not the palms) with spikes. Otherwise, as death grew near and the pinned legs grew increasingly feeble, the weight of the sagging body would have pulled it loose from the cruciform. Of course, none of this “doctor at Calvary” research has much to do with Christian spirituality. So I find my compulsive eye-search a bit embarrassing. The scars of the crucified Savior should evoke more from me than this kind of quasi-scientific inquiry.
Yet, isn’t it interesting that the Risen Christ still bears the scars from the piercing nails and sword? We dare not pass too quickly past this detail; it renders more than artistic license. There is a profound and significant point to be observed in the bearing of the scars. Jesus – the one who is raised from death in all his glory – is the same person as the one who was crucified. His Resurrection appearances give firm testimony to that fact. Although He now possesses what we have come to call a “glorified body,” Jesus still bears the marks of his suffering and cruel death. He is scarred forever. Portrayals of the Risen Lord quite properly include the marks left by the nails and the soldier’s lance. There is no real necessity that they be located in culturally correct fashion. But it is very important to our Christian faith and walk of discipleship that they be there.
It is a fact of history that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. His risen body bore the marks that resulted from his to-the-end faithfulness to the Way of God. The terror and pain of crucifixion is what happened to him. History cannot be reversed. Thus the Risen Lord bears the marks of his history. In him history is not reversed, avoided or transcended. With his death, Jesus does not just pass into myth, memory, or the realm of ghosts.
The Crucified and Risen Lord are one and the same. In a sense, the scars are still there to prove it. They give focus and power to our Christian walk. Victorious over death, Jesus does not return with a spirit of vengeance and retribution. Rejected, ignored, belittled, and killed as he was, he had every right to seek and demand some sort of recompense. But in love he does not. His scars give evidence of a divine heart which absorbs pain and suffering and redeems it. His response is not to get even or pay back.
The life, death and Resurrection of Jesus set the cadence for our own journey of faith. The way of Jesus, from death to life, is the way of discipleship as well. We know there is no other true way. Yet we at times find ourselves wanting to escape or avoid it, nevertheless. There is not a one of us who has not been scarred by the unfairness of life, the injustice of systems, or the sins and betrayals of others. We bear the physical and psychological marks of battered lives, broken dreams, bruised hearts. Our history is one which cannot be reversed. What has happened has happened.
So scarred and hurt, any one of us could claim a right to be angry and lay claim to justifiable revenge – whether it be with spouse, boss, child, sibling, classmate, co-worker, or government official. It is only a short step from anger to explosion – whether the burst be a volley of words, flying fists, a hail of bullets, or a truckload of fuel-soaked fertilizer. Violence begets violence. Retribution begets retribution.
The way of Jesus leads to life, peace and reconciliation. The disciple of Jesus learns from Him. But it takes a conscious choice, a living out of free will. To follow Jesus does not mean to deny pain and suffering, pretending they aren’t real or don’t matter. With Jesus the disciple acknowledges the facts of life – but reaches beyond the tragedy and hurt and redeems them. Only God’s love can make that possible. The disciples of Jesus bear their own scars. What caused them to be is not really as important as the response they prompt.
There is a cry in our land these days which speaks of punishment, vengeance and retribution. While not denying the value and necessity of justice, the beginning position of the follower of Christ must be more than what our culture seems to champion. Jesus offers us, not a way to get even with those who hurt, betray or disappoint us, but a way to bring them to redemption and a fullness of life.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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