Today, I’m thinking about the wound Christ’s body received when the soldier at the foot of the cross thrust his lance into His side. I’m always mystified when I look at a painting or a crucifix statuary in which the crucified Christ is shown with only a superficial wound, almost like a scratch, at the puncture point. And … the puncture point always seems to be in the wrong spot … at a point between two ribs. The photograph accompanying this post shows what I am talking about.
St. John, who was present at the foot of the cross, tells the story of this piercing (Jn 19: 34). John says that Jesus is already dead, but, for some unknown reason, one of the soldiers who came to check on Christ and the two criminals delivered this dramatic end to the crucifixion event. John records that when Christ’s body was pierced, “at once there came out blood and water.” This implies that the lance punctured the heart.
Why do I think that the puncture point is shown in the wrong place? Well, Christ’s body was on the cross, and it seems to me that His body would have been elevated – maybe as much as six feet above the ground. The soldier, who was likely standing on the ground, would have had to thrust the lance upward at quite a steep angle, making it impossible to cause the wound to be between two ribs, and into the heart of the upright, though possibly sagging, body. To me, it is more likely that the lance was pushed upward under the lowest rib making it more like a wound on the right side of the abdomen rather than between two ribs. And blood and water gushed out? There would have been evidence of this on the body, i.e., a flow of blood and water below the wound. It would not have looked like a superficial scratch.
Further evidence of the gruesome nature of the wound is given later by St. John, in which the resurrected Jesus and the doubting St. Thomas come together. Jesus says to St. Thomas “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” (Jn 20:27). Place your hand in my side? It must have been a massive scar, to be able to put one’s hand in it.
But let us not forget the significance of the piercing and the blood/water flow in all of this. It was actually surprising that a flow of blood and water would flow from a dead body. I think, by recounting this story, St. John may be saying that the crucifixion was not an end, but a beginning. The beginning of the flow of Christ’s saving grace into our hearts, yours and mine.