Dear Sisters and Brothers,
About 250 years ago, one our nation’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, rewrote the New Testament. He removed from it what he considered embarrassments: things like miracles or cures and exorcisms. When Jefferson had finished his task, what he had left was the story of nice man, who said beautiful things and then died miserably. Jefferson removed any sense of the miraculous or the extraordinary. Jefferson’s watered-down figure, a nice man, certainly did not have the power to capture the imagination of millions of people for two millennia.
Mr. Jefferson was wrong! There is not a Jesus, Who is other than the Jesus of Faith. There is no record of another. 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 them, he has now joined 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 of 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 or extraordinary courage. Two of them had betrayed or denied Him. They certainly were not expecting to see Him alive after His hideous passion, crucifixion and death. The women, visiting the grave, simply thought they were going to finish the customary funeral 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”. At that time – unlike the present – the testimony of women was not admissible in a legal suite; therefore, for the evangelists to relate that women were the first bearers of the news of the Resurrection is in itself an extraordinary witness to the truth of the Gospels.
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 in itself this is not enough to convince. It is that empty tomb plus Jesus’ many appearances to His disciples that finally persuaded them that Lord had risen.
Folks, those who only view Jesus as a nice man, who spoke lovely words, do not give themselves over to death nor inconvenience themselves to evangelize – what’s the point? Such a Jesus would 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 and He rankled at the injustice shown to the lower classes with whom He regularly consorted. He reached in compassion to public sinners and unlikely disciples, such as prostitutes and the 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” – “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. 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 magnificently, the Emperor in Rome! This is your King? – If He is, look what I can do to Him (and you as well!).
What a surprise Pilate and the Sanhedrin were in for! The miserable crushed spectacle is ratified by God in the most profound 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 they do not prevail. Even death does not conquer, but rather the God of life does! The Scriptures grapple with “resurrection” language – how to adequately grasp and describe this new and unexpected reality. In the next few weeks, at Mass, we will read of Jesus’ appearances and the dawning realization among His followers that Jesus lives and dies no more. We, who are Baptized into His death and identified with Him – will also rise with Him!
Beginning with Baptism, our identification is with Him. His followers, 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 can share His divine life, the life of the Resurrection! He will work out the details that are now hidden from our eyes.
St. Paul wrote that: “…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 to us. Death does not have the final word. The Lord of life does!
Let us rejoice and be glad!
In the Risen Christ,