‘My Left Foot’ is a movie that tells the story of Christy Brown, a disabled writer from Dublin who died in 1981. Daniel Day Lewis played the part of Christy and won one of the two Oscars awarded to the film. One day, long before Christy became famous, he saw a picture of the English novelist, Margaret Foster, on the dust cover of one of her books, and immediately fell in love with her. He wrote her a letter that brimmed with charm and wit. She replied, and thus began a warm friendship.
Christy was very anxious to meet her. However, when she learned that he was severely physically handicapped, she was dead against it. From the kind of letters he wrote, she had formed a beautiful image of him in her mind, and was afraid that if she met him, her fantasy would be destroyed.
However, they did eventually meet. By this time Christy was a well-known writer himself. Sure enough, when she saw Christy’s severely crippled body, she couldn’t take it. She stopped answering his letters, and their friendship petered out.
Christy could move only the toe of his left foot. With this he somehow learned to type. It was with his toe that he wrote those charming letters and his subsequent books. His greatness lay in the fact that, despite his handicap, he still managed to write those letters. But Margaret was unable to see this. All she could see was a twisted body. Unable to take this, she eased him out of her life.
While this must have been very difficult for Christy I find I also have great sympathy for Margaret. It is difficult to come face to face with suffering. And it seems that this was the crux of the problem for the Apostles and the Jews at large. They could cope with a successful Jesus, a Jesus who could feed five thousand and perform marvellous miracles. But a bruised and broken Jesus was another matter. The chief stumbling block for the Jews was the simple fact that the Messiah had to suffer such a cruel death on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem.
It seems that John’s gospel is aware of this because he seems to focus more on the wounds of Jesus rather than the resurrection. When Jesus appears to the disciples, ‘he showed them his hands and his side.’ When Thomas comes back and hears about the appearance of Jesus, all he wants to do is touch the wounds. ‘Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and place my finger in his side, I will not believe.’ Why such focus on the wounds of the risen Christ? It is because he is wounded and raised. The risen Christ carries his wounds with him. He did not leave all that suffering behind in the tomb.
In the resurrection the Father gives back to Jesus the whole of his life, all that he has lived. He is now the wounded and risen Christ. This is consoling for us because it means that the risen Lord is still in touch with wounded humanity. All over the world, human beings are being wounded and killed. Some 20,000 people die a day just because they are too poor to go on living. Countless of others are wounded and tortured. Good Friday goes on all over the planet. If the resurrection was Jesus simply putting all that behind him, like a man who leaves hospital recovered from his wounds, then he would have nothing to do with us now. But Jesus still carries his wounds and so can still identify with us.
The amazing thing is that when Thomas touched the wounds the true greatness of Jesus dawned on him, his doubts vanished, and his faith was reborn. In the end his confession of faith far outstrips that of the other apostles in confessing that Jesus was not only Lord but also God. But there is much more than an increase of faith here. The risen Christ is the wounded healer able to be compassionate and sympathetic to his sad and dispirited followers. But the wounded and risen Christ didn’t just add up to an increase the faith. His very presence dispels their fears and gives courage to all. Remember that the disciples are locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews. They dare not go outside in case they get lynched. But the wounded Lord comes and says to them, ‘Peace be with you’ and sends them on their way. They will get hurt. Most of them died as martyrs. But they can embrace that risk with courage because they have seen the wounded Christ and he is raised.
We have all our secure upper rooms in which we hide from hurt. Every one of us has his or her own fears against which we lock the doors. Fear is a natural thing in the face of danger but it must not paralyse us. Jesus is saying to us what he said many times in the gospel, ‘do not be afraid!’ The reason why we must not fear is that he is with us always – to the end of time.
I was at an all-night vigil for the youth last night. Again and again I was surprised by the depth of their faith, but also by the many difficulties that they must endure. I had no answer to all their problems but then I realised that the disciples in that upper room had their problems too; a broken and dispirited lot before Jesus came to them. But once they put Jesus and the centre of their lives everything changed and they were transformed in leaps and bounds. So that was my motto for them. Put Jesus at the centre. Deepen your relationship with him. You may still have problems but now that the Lord is your Shepherd there is nothing that you shall want, because he is your Lord and your God.
Sunday, 27 April 2014