My sense of what’s expected of a pastor is to preach and teach only from the places where he is whole. To say from his secured position, “Here are my successes. Now, listen to me.”
Without apology, this just isn’t my style, nor is it really the picture I get of Jesus, especially standing with his side split open for Thomas:
One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[c] was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
Here is this scene where Thomas demands what would seem to be too much from our Lord, and yet it seems particularly important to Jesus that Thomas bear witness to His resurrection in this incredibly intimate way. Jesus simply appears unannounced, unheralded, in a room where Thomas was hiding. How then would Thomas, after watching Jesus suffer and die, place his hand into the side of the now restored, resurrected body of Jesus and ever be the same?
Growing up, I had always seen Thomas as sort of laughable. He has been, of course, nicknamed for the rest of history as “Doubting Thomas” due to this single moment in his life, as if this were his only characteristic. From my vantage point of living thousands of years after, Thomas seemed ridiculous, “I mean, Jesus said He would rise again in three days! Silly Thomas.”
But maybe Thomas wasn’t “doubting Thomas.” Maybe he was “hurting Thomas.” Maybe after he had just witnessed the man in whom he placed all his hopes and fears be tortured and killed, Thomas was “broken Thomas.” Those moments after Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb must have been so very bleak, and for some of the disciples, I am convinced a sense of betrayal fell across their hearts like a shadow. This doubt in Thomas might very well be a wound, one which he courageously exposes to his brothers and to Jesus. How beautiful then that Jesus reciprocates this vulnerability to his friend! “Here, Thomas, I have wounds too. They are for you. Trust me.”
But what if it hadn’t been this way? What if Thomas had made his request and Jesus had responded, “Sorry, Thomas, I’m perfect and untouchable, so maybe I can just do a miracle or two for you?”
I’m convinced that Thomas would never have been so moved by that story as he had to have been by placing his hand to the torso of Jesus, as the Lord stood still, quietly watching Thomas’ eyes. Thomas, I imagine, became suddenly aware that this was too gracious of a gesture as his hand touched the scar. Wishing maybe that he could have just backed out, Thomas’ fingertips slipped into His side.
In this way, I have to admit identifying with Thomas. Jesus has often been something altogether different than what I want Him to be. His way is profoundly human, and at the same time opposite to my human reason. His road is tougher to walk. He leads me into vulnerable community with unprecedented rawness. Following Him sometimes leaves me wounded and broken, wishing I could hide.
To live His way doesn’t seem very practical. It’s one thing to see Jesus as my Savior and an object of worship, but it’s another thing altogether to see Him as the example for how I ought to live my life. He becomes very problematic when I start to think that His brokenness is mine to share in. I’m just coming to grips with the fact that if my King stands with His wounds on display to be witnessed and touched, then I must do the same.
Of course I’m aware that it’s unrealistic to allow every passer-by the kind of access Jesus permits Thomas in John 20 ….but it’s Thomas. It’s not like Thomas hadn’t given up everything to walk alongside Jesus everyday for years, eating, sleeping, joking and laughing with Him.
So what does this mean?
What it means for me, and probably for you, is that if there aren’t at least a handful of people with whom I have this kind of intimacy, I’m not living like Jesus. Not everyone can hold this place, but there is likely one person (at least) in your life who truly loves you for who you are, simply because you exist. They are the few people in your life who will take you at your best and worst, any day, anytime. They will need to place their hand in your side now and again. And although it will be embarrassing to lift your shirt and reveal the scar, I tell you: you need to do it. After all, they’re the ones who believe in you, the ones with enough nerve to dare ask such a place in your life. I’m convinced that a friend like that, the one who pushes in, is truly a gift.
Wrapping this up, I’ll just say that with whatever influence I have in my church, a message I hope to live out fully is this:
I refuse to live my life falsely “put together,” because if God can use my brokenness, my hurting, my doubting, then so much moreso, He can use yours. I believe this message is such truth, I would do it injustice if I were to conceal the fractured places of my life just to seem worthy of its preaching. I refuse to stand before my community with a charade of perfection, claiming “Jesus has made me wound-less, and He can do the same for you!” It just isn’t true. The truth is: anyone who wrestles with God will find Jesus showing up unexpectedly, more intimately than they had anticipated, and come away wonderfully marred.