About 250 years ago, one of the founding fathers of our nation, Thomas Jefferson, rewrote the New Testament removing what he thought were embarrassments: things like miracles and cures or exorcisms. When he had finished, what was left was the story of a nice man, who said beautiful things and then died miserably. Jefferson removed any sense of the miraculous or the extraordinary so what was left was a watered-down figure, who may have been a nice a guy, but certainly did not have the power to capture the imagination of millions of people for two millennia.
Mr. Jefferson and others of the same outlook, are wrong! There is not a Jesus, Who is not the Jesus of Faith. There is no record of any other. The letters of St. Paul were written to Christian communities he had founded before the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John and Luke were composed. In his letter to the Romans, he seeks to assure the Christians already in the Roman capital, that, though he once persecuted the faith, he is now with them in faith. Central to that faith is: “if we have been united with Him (Jesus) in a likeness to His death, so shall we be through a like Resurrection …if we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with Him…we know that Christ once raised from the dead will never die again – death has no power over Him..”
When the Gospels were written, they were almost embarrassingly frank about Our Lord’s earliest followers. Look at the apostles, none of whom had displayed much understanding nor extraordinary courage and two of whom had betrayed or denied Him – well they were not expecting to see Him alive after His hideous crucifixion and burial. The women, visiting the grave, thought they were going to finish the customary rites that had been interrupted by the Sabbath. They hear from the angels what is the faith of the Church. In the New Testament, angels were often convenient agents for expressing the faith of the community. “Why do you search for the living One among the dead? He is not here – He has been raised up!” When the apostles heard this news, they thought that the women were mad: “the story seemed like nonsense and they would not believe them”. In their time – very unlike the present – woman’s testimony was not admissible in a legal suite therefore for the women to be recorded as the bearers of the news is in itself an extraordinary witness to the truth of the Gospel.
These folks were not expecting a Resurrection. There were many Jewish schools of thought about what, if anything, could be expected beyond this world. Peter goes to the tomb and it is empty. But this is not enough to convince. That empty tomb plus Jesus’ many appearances to His disciples finally persuaded them that Lord had risen.
Folks, who only view Jesus as a nice man, speaking lovely nice words, do not give themselves over to death nor inconvenience themselves to evangelize – what’s the point? They do not radically alter people’s way of thinking!
Jesus said frightening and controversial things: He was not always sweet Jesus, tender and mild – He was at times angry at the thick-headedness of the Apostles; He rankled at the injustice shown to the lower classes with whom He regularly consorted. He reached compassionately out to public sinners and unlikely religious candidates, such as the prostitutes and despised tax collectors. He warned us to get rid of anything that might lead us to sin and separate us from God, even if it meant an arm or a leg!
He died an ugly, brutal death finely tuned by the Romans for rebels and common criminals. Over His head hung Pilate’s final bit of sarcasm and mockery. In Greek, Hebrew and Latin ” Jesus Nazareni, Rex Judaeorum”. No one could miss the irony. Pilate, the Roman governor, is saying: Look at this man – this miserable tortured wreck, this spectacle, so unlike earthly kings, or most magnificent of them all, the Emperor in Rome – this is your King? – if He is, look what I can do to Him (and you!).
What a surprise Pilate and the Sanhedrin were in for! The miserable crushed spectacle is ratified by God in the most radical way possible – He is raised up! He was crushed by adversity but He lives now in a new and radical way. The powers of darkness are strong, but strong as they are, they do prevail. Even death does not conquer, but the God of life does.
The Scriptures grapple with the language – how to adequately grasp this new and unexpected reality. In the next few weeks, at Mass we will read of Jesus’ appearances and the dawning realization that Jesus lives and dies no more. We are Baptized into His death – identified with Him – will rise with Him.
Beginning with Baptism, our identification is with Him. His followers: i.e. ones who try to live as He taught, are also to share His destiny. In an incomprehensible act of love, the ineffable God has become one with the creature made in His image and likeness, “us”, so that we might be one with Him.
Indeed today we shout “Alleluia” – “Praise God” for His love for us. In Jesus, God shows us His human Face! Jesus shows us how to live our humanity so that we begin to share His life, the life of the Resurrection! He will work out the details hidden form our eyes.
St. Paul wrote that: “..the eye has not seen, nor the ear heard, nor the heart of man felt what God has prepared for those who love Him” – a love like that of Jesus, who extended God’s compassion and kindness. Then indeed death does not have the final word. The Lord of life does!
Our parish and academy staffs wish every parishioner, and also your friends and families, a blessed, and hope filled Easter! Let us rejoice and be glad!