In civil trials to determine damages for personal injury, the most dramatic moment in the proceedings usually occurs when the plaintiff, the one who has been injured, shows his or her injuries to the judge and jury. This showing is often through the medium of photographs and medical testimony, but sometimes the plaintiff will show the marks on his or her body in the courtroom itself. The scars or vestiges of the damage done to the plaintiff’s body stand as a silent accusation against the defendant: “You have done this to me and you must pay.” All the plaintiff’s pain and anger lead up to this moment. If the defendant is in fact responsible for inflicting the injuries so exhibited and if he has anything like a conscience, it must be a terrible experience for him to come face to face with the consequences of his negligence in such a public forum.
How different the showing of the Resurrected Christ’s wounds is. He appears to the Apostles and immediately shows them the marks of His crucifixion. He does this not to accuse them, though their abandonment of Him at His hour of need was certainly blameworthy. He does not confront them out of anger, demanding that they pay for what they failed to do. No, instead, He comes to reconcile them to Himself. He comes to give them peace.
The injuries that others have inflicted upon us, whether visible or invisible, are most often monuments of bitterness for us. If we show them to others, it is to make those who have inflicted them upon us pay. For most of us, considering all the ways we’ve been hurt only serves to hone our resentments. We keep them sharp and ready to wield against those who have hurt us.
Jesus bears His wounds so differently from the way we bear ours. For Him, the marks on His hands, side, and feet are not monuments of bitterness, but signs of a love that neither death nor sin can conquer. He invites us to gaze upon His wounds so that the love emanating from them might heal the bitterness that festers in our own.
Unlike in our adversarial trials, when we admit our guilt before the One we have wounded by our sins, we are set free. When we acknowledge that our sins are the reason for Christ’s wounds, those wounds become for us not signs of accusation, but portals of mercy. By them, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive pardon and peace, and we join that cloud of witnesses to the victory of Jesus over sin and death.