Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Second Sunday of Easter

Touching the Wound

April 19, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

This week, I'm thinking about the viscerally physical aspect of having faith in the risen Christ.

Arts & Architecture

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Caravaggio, Paintings, Quotes, Biography

Image of 17th century Italian artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.

Focus on the wound.

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What is the wound you are afraid to touch?


Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” –John 20:27

Seventeenth century Italian artist Caravaggio’s painting, seen in this week’s arts and architecture lesson, so graphically depicts Thomas’ finger inside of Christ’s wound that it makes the viewer wince.

The heart of today’s gospel is not a cerebral exercise in doubt or belief. It is, rather, a viscerally physical event. Thomas reaches his hand inside Christ’s body and touches an open wound.

It is not Thomas’s intellectual or spiritual gymnastics that matter most in this story. It is Christ’s invitation to touch his wound.

When Thomas touches the wound, everything changes for him. How could it not?

Our conversion begins not with our intellectual assent, but when we accept this invitation. To touch the wound of God. To feel it, to know it in our bodies. To examine it, to be made distinctly uncomfortable at the sight of it. To begin to comprehend how real, how painful it is.

The problem is, we have a natural aversion to wounds, both physical and emotional. When we see them, our first impulse is not to touch them but to avoid them or cover them. A wound tightly or prematurely covered, or a wound neglected, will only fester.

I recall a time when a member of my family shared a wound with me. In a moment of vulnerability, he told me something important. But I missed it. I didn’t touch it. Instead, I avoided it; I said words that led to his covering it over. The wound wasn’t ready for a scab. It hadn’t been touched. It had not been prepared to heal.

The moment passed. And his wound stayed tender, perhaps began to be infected, even.

Several days later, I re-visited the matter. I asked forgiveness. It wasn’t the same as the moment that had passed. But at least I could go back and try to help dress the wound. Late is better than never when it comes to treating our wounds.

But the real gift, the real power lies in our ability to touch wounds when they are fresh, open, gaping.

In that very physical, visceral moment, Jesus and Thomas forged a new intimacy. A searing intimacy. The kind that only comes when two people have shared the most vulnerable wounds when they are fresh, wide open, begging for attention.

We are in the 50 days of resurrection. Jesus’ new life is not a cerebral concept. It is physical. The story of Thomas touching the wound carries with it a demand for our vulnerable engagement.

If we are to encounter the risen Christ, it will not be in an ivory tower removed from complex human realities. It will be in the smells, sights, sounds, touches, and feelings of our shared experience. It will be in the messy, physical, emotional labor of being present to one another. We are experiencing this truth in these days with fresh impact.

Nothing is harder than touching the wound of another. But something is more painful: missing the tender moment when we are invited to place our hand in the wound. Avoiding that intimacy is far more painful than risking it.

Life, as we are painfully aware, is short. Finding the courage to touch the wound is worth the risk.