These final words of Paul to the Galatians probably refer to scars he had incurred from physical persecution. He was saying, “Don’t call into question my devotion to Jesus, anyone who looks at my back can clearly see my commitment.”
It is interesting to me that the post crucifixion encounters with Jesus reveal the fact that his resurrected form included the marks left by his crucifixion. Jesus wanted his murder wounds left on his body for himself and everyone else to see. It is visible proof of his love for us.
I got a tattoo yesterday. This is a bit uncharacteristic of me. I have no other tattoos or body piercings, and what is left of my graying hair could never be gathered into hip dreadlocks. I am by nature a nerd, and must be reminded by my daughter to keep my shirt untucked and not to wear socks with my sandals.
I got the tattoo for three reasons. First, it expresses my fidelity to Christ. Like a wedding ring or circumcision, it is an outward symbol of a vow or covenant. Second, it marks my long-standing commitment to the poor. The tattoo was done in a garbage community here in Cairo, Egypt - the same community with whom my family stayed in 2002. Finally, it represents my pledge to serve the Church in all her diversity, because it was given to me at a Coptic Christian monastery located in the garbage village. While I am not a Copt (a branch of the Church very much like those in the Eastern Orthodox stream), the Christians here have impressed me greatly as those who love Jesus sacrificially. Many of them wear this tattoo even though it does not help their status in Muslim Egypt. I am committed to loving and serving the wonderfully wild and extremely diverse Bride of Christ, even though I am sometimes grieved by her actions (or inactions) and don’t always find publicly connecting myself to the Church gets me too far in the world’s eyes.
So as long as I live I will bear in my body a physical sign of my commitment to Christ, to the poor, and to the Church.