The portion of human anatomy I have specialized in is that marvelous creation the hand. TO my mind, nothing in all of nature rivals the hand’s combination of strength and agility, tolerance and sensitivity.
Our most wonderful activities-art, music, writing, healing, touching-are performed by hands. It is natural, then, that when I think of the Incarnation and the pain of God, I visualize the hands of Jesus Christ.

I can hardly conceive of God taking on the form of an infant, but He once had the tiny, jerky hands of a newborn, with miniature fingernails and wrinkles around the knuckles and soft skin that had never known abrasion or roughness. “The hands that had made the sun and stars,” says Chesterton, “were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.” And too small to change His own clothes or put food in His
mouth. God, too, experienced infant helplessness.

Since I have worked as a carpenter, I can easily imagine the hands of the young Jesus as He learned the trade in His father’s shop. His skin must have developed callouses and rough spots and tender spots. He
felt pain gratefully, I am sure. (Carpentry is a precarious profession for my leprosy patients who lack the warning of pain that allows them to use tools with sharp edges and rough handles.)

And then there were the hands of Christ the physician. The Bible tells us strength flowed out of them when He healed people. He chose not to perform miracles en masse, but rather one by one, touching each person He healed. He touched eyes that had long since dried out, and suddenly they admitted light and color. He touched a woman with a hemorrhage, knowing that by Jewish law she would make Him unclean. He touched people with leprosy-people no one else would touch in those days. As He did so, people could feel something of the Divine spirit coming through. In small and personal ways, His hands were setting right what had been disrupted in His beloved creation.

The most important scene in Jesus’ life also involved His hands. Then, those hands that had done so much good were taken, one at a time, and pierced through with a thick spike. My mind balks at visualizing it.

I have spent my life cutting into hands, delicately, with scalpel blades that slice through one layer of tissue at a time, to expose the marvelous complex of nerves and blood vessels and tiny bones and
tendons and muscles inside. I have been on treasure hunts inside opened hands, searching for healthy tendons to reattach in order to free up fingers that have been useless for twenty years. I know what
crucifixion must do to a human hand.

Executioners of that day drove their spikes through the wrist, right through the carpal tunnel that houses finger-controlling tendons and the median nerve. It is impossible to force a spike there without crippling the hand into a claw shape. Jesus had no anesthetic. He allowed those hands to be marred and crippled and destroyed.

Later, His weight hung from them, tearing more tissue, releasing more blood. There could be no more helpless image than that of God hanging paralyzed from a tree. “Heal yourself!” the crowd jeered He had saved others-why not Himself? The disciples, who had hoped He was the Messiah, cowered in the darkness or drifted away. Surely they had been mistaken this figure could not be God.

Finally, in one last paroxysm of humanness, Jesus said simply, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” The humiliation of the Incarnation ended. The sentence was served.

But that is not the last glimpse we have of Jesus’ hands in the Biblical record. He appears again, in a closed room, where Thomas is still doubting the unlikely story he thinks his friends have concocted.
People do not rise from the dead, he scoffs. It must have been a ghost, or an illusion. At that moment, Jesus holds up those unmistakable hands His disciples had seen perform miracles. The scars give proof that they belong to Him, the One who had died on the cross. The body has changed-it can pass through walls and locked doors to join them. But the scars remain. Jesus invites Thomas to come and trace
them with his own fingers.

Thomas responds simply, “My Lord and my God!” It is the first recorded time that one of Jesus’ disciples calls Him God directly. Significantly, the assertion comes in response to Jesus’ wounds.

Why did Christ keep His scars? He could have had a perfect body, or no body, when He returned to splendor in heaven. Instead He carried with Him remembrances of His visit to earth. For a reminder of His time here, He chose scars. That is why I say God hears and understands our pain, and even absorbs it into Himself-because He kept those scars as a lasting image of wounded humanity. He has been here; He has borne the sentence. The pain of man has become the pain of God.