Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Caravaggio's Gruesome Treasure

"Jesus 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.'
Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!'"
- John 20:27-28 (NRSV)

As I've been praying and preparing for worship this Sunday, I have been pondering Caravaggio's famous depiction of "Doubting Thomas". It's a pretty grisly painting. The notion of poking around in someone's abdomen is not a very attractive idea for me.

Thomas could see his Risen Lord before him, and certainly Jesus offered to allow him a closer examination of the wounds. But the Bible never tells us if Thomas actually explored the wounds of Jesus' resurrected body. I'm not sure I would have done so. It's a pretty grotesque proposition.

And yet, perhaps Caravaggio's depiction is correct. Though Thomas could in fact see the Resurrected Jesus standing before him, and surely recognized the tenor of his master's voice, the tilt of his head, and the slant of his smile, perhaps the disciple needed something else confirmed: this was no ghost. This Jesus was flesh and blood, a crucified messiah actually resurrected, not simply a vindicated martyr permitted to roam the earth as an ethereal spirit.

In the Resurrection of Our Lord, the Kingdom of God had truly arrived. In Jesus, God had even conquered Death, that great enemy. A new age had begun.

With that realization, Thomas had no problem in excitedly proclaiming Jesus as Lord and God. Indeed, he truly is.

I am in the midst of reading N.T. Wright's new book Surprised By Hope, a challenging explication of the Doctrine of Resurrection. It's an exciting read, both affirming and agitating. The first thing it's doing for me is forcing me to ask the Easter question, "What does the Resurrection of Jesus and our Doctrine of Resurrection mean in my every day life and ministry?"

I hope it means more to me than simply the promise of "pie in the sky by and by when I die". I want this essential affirmation to inform and dominate all I do for Christ's Kingdom. My fear is that I've not allowed the full implications of resurrection to saturate every aspect of my theology and practice.

So, maybe I can learn from Carvaggio's masterpiece. Maybe I, too, need to "poke around" the flesh of my Risen Lord's body, not only to dispel any doubt, but to reinforce the notion of "resurrection" (as opposed, I presume, to any intrinsic "immortality"), to allow the Spirit to teach and re-teach me, and to allow this doctrine to more fully inform and direct my ministry and life.

1 comment:

Corben said...