By Fr Joseph Francis –
Chapter XVI: On the third day he rose again from the dead (2)
The Sadducees (a party of Jewish priests) were interested only in the life in this world and did not believe in the resurrection of body and made fun of the belief (Cf. Mt 22. 23-33) and they brought a fictitious case for the consideration of Jesus. A woman they said got married to seven brothers one after the other’s death and finally she also died. They asked Jesus the young Teacher whose wife would she be on the day of Resurrection at the end of time since all 7 were her husbands in life? Their idea was only to make fun of Jesus and he gave them a fitting answer. After saying that there is no giving in marriage or taking in marriage after biological death, he asked them to go and read properly the Pentateuch i.e., the first five books of the Bible which only the Sadducees accepted.
In those books it speaks of ‘God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. God cannot be God of the dead but of the living; so all those people are alive. Therefore there is an after-life, an eternal life with God. Here we are interested only in the fact that Jesus believed in Resurrection. The Pharisees (a party of strict observance of the Jewish law in the time of Jesus) though they believed in the resurrection, they assigned it to the eschatological time of the Messiah and judgement at the end of times.
Hence it would be unthinkable for the Sadducees as well as the Pharisees to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. So it was an uphill task for the Church to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus. Yet the early Church was strong in its proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus (Cf. the speeches of Peter Acts 2. 32 “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses”& 3. 15 “…and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses”; Cf. Also the speech of Paul at Antioch in Pisidia Acts 13. 32-33 “…we bring you the good news that what God promised to the Fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus”).
Resurrection is far different from resuscitation
We should also not forget that it is not coming back to the same old life but a new type of existence that is not restricted by space and time. This is the reason why Jesus comes into the place where the disciples are assembled though the doors and windows were closed for the fear of Jews. He is found in Galilee and in no time at all he is found in Jerusalem. Therefore in this his new existence with new, fresh life Jesus could be present anywhere and at any time and at the same time in many places, as indeed it happens in the Eucharist. He is present here, there and everywhere when the Eucharist is celebrated. Thousands eat of him and drink his blood and he is possessed by all who want him or come to him in faith!
Therefore if Jesus were not alive today here and now with his true human but glorified body and human soul, present actively in his Church multi-modally through the sacraments, community, in the poor and marginalized, then the Church would only be a social service organization doing altruistic service to humanity; all the sacraments would be false and empty ritualism as we mentioned in the previous chapter.
The teaching of Jesus would be emphasized rather than his Person which would be relegated to pages of history. But this is not the case. He is alive and with us. Even as you, dear Reader read these words, I can assure you that he is by your side seeing you or listening to you and wishing you well. He will not force you; he did not do that with any of his disciples and he will not do it with you. He will only invite you to “Come and see” as he told the two disciples who went behind him and asked him politely as to where he lived (Jn 1.37-39). Similarly his disciples also did not compel anyone but invited all to “Come and see” (Jn 1. 45-46). One experiences the Risen Lord in one’s life by faith. Paul perhaps had not seen Jesus during the biological life of Jesus but he had an experience of the Risen Lord later as he says in I Cor 15. 8 “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Gospel descriptions of the Risen Lord’s bodily appearances
One must also be careful to pay attention to the Gospel resurrection accounts and what they say indirectly about the Risen Body of Jesus:
- It is corporeal. Jesus walks on the ground (Jn 21.4-14 the lake of Tiberius). He is touched by Mary Magdalene (Jn 20.17), Thomas and other disciples (Jn 20. 24-29). He eats fish with them (Lk 24.36-43) etc.
- It is curious that the beholders find it difficult to recognize Jesus. Why is this so? A certain Greek monk suggests that the Risen Lord could appear in any form he wishes. He appeared to the two disciples of Emmaus like a wayfarer because indeed he looked like that. He appeared to Mary Magdalene like a gardener and that is why she could not recognize him. To the disciples at the lake of Tiberius he appeared like an old retired fisherman giving practical tips. All of them recognized Jesus by some characteristic action. The two disciples of Emmaus recognized him by the characteristic way in which he broke the bread (must have been a special style). Mary Magdalene recognized him by the voice and the characteristic inflections he used while calling her “Mary”. The beloved disciple recognized him because he connected in his mind the great catch of fish with the catch of fish they had when they were first called to be his disciples. So, even today Jesus the Risen Lord could appear with any kind of body and one must be ready to accept him if he were to appear as a woman, child, old person, poor or rich person. There is no restriction to his appearance in any form and at any place!
- However, the body was same in many respects without the need for looking exactly the same. How else are we to explain the doubt of those who met him in Galilee in the last scene before ascension according to St. Matthew 28.16-17 “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted”. So, Jesus can come to you in any manner today. Would you welcome him?
A final word of caution is in order here: could we prove the resurrection of Jesus? We CANNOT! We can at the most be able to show its reasonableness. The resurrection of Jesus remains a matter of Faith!
To be continued…