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Wounds to heal wounds

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"Incredulous for joy" is the phrase that St. Luke uses to describe the disciples’ reaction when they saw the risen Lord. Could this really be happening? Could he really be back from the dead — not just a ghost, not just a figment of my imagination, but truly back from the dead, standing right before me in the flesh?

We might wonder why this was so unexpected for the disciples, especially given the fact that Christ told them several times, plainly and explicitly, that he would die and on the third day rise. But let’s not underestimate how difficult it was for his disciples to believe this. It is easy for a mind to be locked into a limited way of thinking. You may have had, for instance, a difficult problem in your life that you couldn’t see a way out of no matter how many hours you spent racking your brain. Maybe it was only after seeking someone else’s help (usually someone with a bit of wisdom and a more objective perspective) that you realized that you were only considering certain possibilities. You were fixating on them, spinning your wheels in the mud. All the while there was another solution just beyond the horizon of your thought.

More formidable than any other problem we face is the reality of death. Death is a horizon past which none of us here can see. For the disciples in the aftermath of Good Friday, this seemed to be the end. It was all over. That Jesus could be back, alive, was inconceivable. Not just impossible, but inconceivable.

Hence when they do see him and are told to touch and see his hands and feet, they are still "incredulous for joy." Our Lord wants to remove all doubt from their minds. Not only does he show them his hands and feet, but also he eats a fish right in front of them, as if to say, "Make no mistake. This is real. You’re not dreaming."

He showed them his hands and feet. This detail is not mentioned by accident. He could have shown them his face, his eyes, his elbows — but it is his hands and feet that the Gospel specifically mentions. This highlights, of course, the importance of his wounds. The marks made by the nails remained on his risen body, revealing that the man in front of them now is the same man who was nailed to the cross.

When St. Augustine once preached on this passage, he said to his congregation, "With his wounds healed, with his scars kept, did he rise from the tomb. For he judged that this was advantageous for his disciples, that his scars should be kept, from where the wounds of the heart would be healed. What wounds? The wounds of unbelief."

We often think of wounds primarily in physical, psychological or emotional terms. St. Augustine is identifying unbelief as another sort of wound that needs to be healed. It is a wound "of the heart" — not just psychological or emotional, but deep within the person — that is healed by Christ’s kept scars. This wound of unbelief is a lack of true vision. It could be simple ignorance, as when divine truth has not yet been encountered. It could be resistance to or rejection of divine truth, as when one’s vision is clouded by other sins. In any case, the unbelieving mind is limited to its own horizon, unable to see beyond it to the supernatural.

In the Gospel today, we are able to glimpse that wound in the disciples just as it is being healed. St. Augustine continues, "But do we think that the disciples were not wounded because they were healed so quickly?" Yet if they had remained wounded in their unbelief, "not their wounds, but their death would have to be mourned."

This wound of the heart is no light wound; it leads to death. Faith heals the wound and leads to eternal life in Christ.

By his wounds and scars, Christ healed the wounds of the apostles’ unbelief. Then he said to them, "You are witnesses of these things." They bore witness to Christ’s resurrection to the ends of the earth, even to their death, so that we here today may have the same apostolic faith. Through their courageous witness, Christ’s wounds healed and scars kept continue to heal our wounds of unbelief today.

Fr. Oetjen is parochial vicar of St. James Church in Falls Church. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021