How Did Jesus Go From Being a Hero to Being Hated In Less Than a Week?

Although we are well into the Easter season, my mind harkens back to an event on Good Friday that has often puzzled me. What turned the crowd against Jesus? Recall that just six days earlier, on Palm Sunday, the crowds praised Him, acclaimed Him Son of David, and spoke of Him as a king and messiah. By the morning of Good Friday, though, they were calling for Him to be crucified. What turned them against Him?

My usual explanation was to suppose that the Temple leaders hired a crowd of ruffians and coached them on what to say. In other words, I conjectured that these were not the same people who welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday but rather a carefully selected group assembled on the plaza in front of the governor’s residence (the Praetorium). While it may be true that the Temple leaders coached them, it still raises the question, how were they able to find so many people willing to turn against a man so widely admired and appreciated by the ordinary faithful?

Fr. Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges gave a thoughtful and insightful analysis of this event and of the crowd’s motivation in his book What Jesus Saw from the Cross. Let us consider Fr. Sertillanges’ explanation of the mood of the crowd. (Note that he does notdiscount that many in the crowd may well have hailed Jesus as Messiah on Palm Sunday.)

At the beginning of his sacred ministry … Jesus had aroused intense enthusiasm …. [But now] what is the grievance? That the leaders of the Jews should have hated Jesus is perhaps intelligible, but the enmity of the crowd is most mysterious. It is only at the last moment that it becomes manifest, and then only under the stimulus of encouragement from the priests (pp. 157-158).

So, Fr. Sertillanges has pondered the mysterious shift in mood of the crowd. And while he notes that there was some stimulus from the Temple leaders, he does not presume that those leaders had gathered the crowd.

[On that Good Friday] morning the crowd assembled for reasons of its own. They have a right to have a prisoner released to them on this day and they are coming to claim that right. Perhaps they are thinking of Barabbas, perhaps of Jesus, who is just at this moment appearing before the tribunal. … Pilate [however] irritates them twice by referring jocularly to [Jesus] as “their king.” [And thus, Jesus now] arouses their division more than their pity: a messiah in chains before a Roman governor? This seems to be the kernel of the matter in the eyes of these Israelites, who were enthusiastic [on Palm Sunday], a few moments ago were in doubt, and now are suddenly hostile and furious (p. 158).

Now Father moves to the psychological shift that takes place:

Mobs do not like to be disillusioned; and the man who disappoints them may pass in a moment from the rank of a national hero to nothing, and even to less than nothing. … Think what a disillusionment it is for the Jews to see Jesus in this [scourged] condition before Pilate. … This is the Pauline “scandal of the cross” (p. 159).

From disappointment they pass to spite, from spite to anger, and under the ceaseless encouragement of their iniquitous leaders they are easily roused to exasperation. The word crosshas been spoken; it is taken up and repeated. … The taste of blood now begins to intoxicate the mob; a thrill of cruelty runs through them all. To any further questions or objections, the maddened crowd has only one reply, given with increasing violence: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (pp. 159-160)

[And thus, Jesus departs the Preatorium] carrying all his blessings with him. As he processes along the way … the cruel gaiety of this day has gone to everybody’s head. Every savage instinct latent in the heart of man was awake; souls froth over with rage in this anticipatory delegation of those in every generation who would hate and oppose Christ vented itself in the cry of Satanic joy (p. 161).

Going even deeper into the cause of their disillusionment, Fr. Sertillanges ponders:

And yet, [at a deeper spiritual level] the problem still remains: how did this transformation which we have described become possible?

The mystics tell us that a great moral lapse is always preceded by hidden causes. [Some have noted that] the Jewish masses at that time were prone to mystical curiosity and superstitious practices. The success that Jesus achieved among the masses was due to the [messianic] interests of the moment and the enthusiasm aroused by his miracles, the fascination of his discourse, and to the sardonic satisfaction of hearing their leaders criticized and of seeing them defied …. [This explains their attraction to Jesus] more than a fully convinced adherence to Jesus and his teaching (pp. 161-162).

The people had become dazzled, not convinced, and their carnal expectations were disappointed. Jesus as a political Messiah … Casting off the Roman yoke, the abolition of taxes and the return of the Jews of the dispersal, this is what would have won them over. But the aims and the doctrines of the Savior were not of this kind; and this is the reason why, as soon as they see their selfish hopes disappointed, the crowd turned against him. Their favor becomes hostility (p. 162).

This is quite a rich examination of the puzzling shift in the mood of the crowd.To Father’s reflection I can only add that St. Paul calls the cross a stumbling block to Jews because Deuteronomy (21:23) says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” As they beheld Jesus horribly scourged, a prelude to crucifixion, they judge Him cursed by God and bitterly dismissed the idea that He could be the Messiah they hoped for.

There much to ponder in Fr. A.G. Sertillanges’ What Jesus Saw from the Cross. It is rich in history and spirituality and I highly recommend it for your reading.

Mass on the Move – A Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

N.B. There is a video version of this homily below

In today’s Gospel we encounter two discouraged and broken men making their way to Emmaus. The text describes them as “downcast.” That is to say, their eyes are cast on the ground, their heads are hung low. Their Lord and Messiah has been killed, the one they had thought would finally liberate Israel. Some women had claimed that He was alive, but these disciples have discredited those reports and are now leaving Jerusalem. It is late in the afternoon and the sun is sinking low.

They are also moving in the wrong direction, West, away from Jerusalem, away form the resurrection. They have their backs to the Lord, rising in the East.

The men cannot see or understand God’s plan. They cannot “see” that He must be alive, just as they were told. They are quite blind as to the glorious things that happened hours before. In this, they are much like us, who also struggle to see and understand that we have already won the victory. Too easily our eyes are cast downward in depression rather than upward in faith.

How will the Lord give them vision? How will He reorient them, turn them in the right direction? How will He enable them to see His risen glory? How will He encourage them to look up from their downward focus and behold new life?

If you are prepared to “see” it, the Lord will celebrate Holy Mass with them. In the context of a sacred meal we call the Mass, He will open their eyes and they will recognize Him; they will see glory and new life.

Note that the entire gospel, not just the last part, is in the form of a Mass. There is a gathering, a penitential rite, a Liturgy of the Word, intercessory prayers, a Liturgy of the Eucharist, and an ite missa est. In this manner of a whole Mass, they have their eyes opened to Him and to glory. They will fulfill the psalm that says, Taste, and see, the goodness of the Lord (Psalm 34:8).

Let’s examine this Mass, which opens their eyes, and ponder how we also taste and see in every Mass.

Stage One: Gathering Rite – The curtain rises on this Mass with two disciples having gathered together on a journey: Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus (Lk 24:13). We have already discussed above that they are in the midst of a serious struggle and are downcast. We only know one of them by name, Cleopas. Who is the other? If you are prepared to accept it, the other is you. So, they have gathered. This is what we do as the preliminary act of every Mass. We who are pilgrims on a journey come together on our journey.

It so happens for these two disciples that Jesus joins them: And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them (Luke 24:15). The text goes on to tell us that they did not recognize Jesus yet.

The Lord walks with us, too. It is essential to acknowledge by faith that when we gather together at Mass the Lord Jesus is with us. Scripture says, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matt 18:20). For many of us, too, although Jesus is present we do not recognize Him. Yet he is no less among us than He was present to these two disciples who fail to recognize Him.

Liturgically, we acknowledge the presence of the Lord at the beginning of the Mass in two ways. First, as the priest processes down the aisle the congregation sings a hymn of praise. It is not “Fr. Jones” they praise; it is Jesus, whom “Fr. Jones” represents. Once at the chair the celebrant (who is really Christ) says, “The Lord be with you.” In so doing He announces the presence of Christ among us promised by the Scriptures.

The Mass has now begun and our two disciples are gathered; the Lord is with them. So, too, for us at every Mass. The two disciples still struggle to see the Lord, to experience new life, and to realize that the victory has already been won. So, too, do some of us who gather for Mass. The fact that these disciples are gathered is already the beginning of the solution. Mass has begun. Help is on the way!

Stage Two: Penitential Rite – The two disciples seem troubled and the Lord inquires of them the source of their distress: What are you discussing as you walk along? (Lk 24:17). In effect, the Lord invites them to speak with Him about what is troubling them. It may also be a gentle rebuke from the Lord that the two of them are walking away from Jerusalem, away from the site of the resurrection.

Clearly their sorrow and distress are governing their behavior. Even though they have already heard evidence of Jesus’ resurrection (cf 24:22-24), they seem hopeless and have turned away from this good news.

Thus the Lord engages them in a kind of gentle penitential rite, engages them about their negativity.

So, too, for us at Mass. The penitential rite is a moment when the celebrant (who is really Christ) invites us to lay down our burdens and sins before the Lord, who alone can heal us. We, too, often enter the presence of God looking downcast and carrying many burdens and sins. Like these disciples, we may be walking in the wrong direction. In effect, the Lord says to us, “What are thinking about and doing as you walk along? Where are you going with your life?”

The Lord asks them to articulate their struggles. This calling to mind of struggles, for them that day and for us in the penitential rite, is a first step to healing and recovery of sight.

Again, we see in this story about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Mass that is so familiar to us.

Stage Three: Liturgy of the Word – In response to their concerns and struggles, the Lord breaks open the Word of God, the Scriptures: Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures (Luke 24:27).

Not only does the Lord refer to Scripture, He interprets it for them. Hence the Word is not merely read; there is a homily, an explanation and application of the Scripture to the men’s struggles. The homily must have been a good one, too, for the disciples later remark, Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32)

So, too, for us at Mass. Whatever struggles we may have brought, the Lord bids us to listen to His Word as the Scriptures are proclaimed. Then the homilist (who is really Christ) interprets and applies the Word to our life. Although the Lord works through a weak human agent (the priest or deacon), He can write straight with crooked lines. As long as the homilist is orthodox, it is Christ who speaks. Pray for your homilist to be an obedient and useful instrument for Christ at the homily moment.

Notice, too, that although the disciples do not yet fully see, their downcast attitude is gone; their hearts are now on fire. Pray God, that it will be so for us who come to Mass each week and hear from God that the victory is already ours in Christ Jesus. God reminds us, through Scripture passages that repeat every three years, that although the cross is part of our life, the resurrection surely is, too. We are carrying our crosses to an eternal Easter victory. If we are faithful to listening to God’s Word, hope and joy build within our hearts and we come, through being transformed by Christ in the Liturgy, to be men and women of hope and confidence.

Stage Four: Intercessory Prayers After the homily, we usually make prayers and requests of Christ. We do this based on the hope, provided by His Word, that He lives, loves us, and is able. So it is that we also see these two disciples request of Christ, Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over (Luke 24:29).

Is this not what we are doing when we say, in so many words, “Stay with us, Lord, for it is sometimes dark in our lives and the shadows are growing long. Stay with us, Lord, and with those we love, so that we will not be alone in the dark. In our darkest hours, be to us a light, O Lord, a light that never fades away”?

Indeed, it is already getting brighter, for we are already more than halfway through the Mass!

Stage Five: Liturgy of the Eucharist – Christ does stay with them. Then come the lines that no Catholic could miss: And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them (Luke 24:30). Yes, it is the Mass to be sure. All the basic actions of the Eucharist are there: He took, blessed, broke, and gave. They are the same actions that took place at the Last Supper and that we repeat at every Mass. Later, the two disciples refer back to this moment as the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:35), a clear biblical reference to the Holy Eucharist.

The words of Mass immediately come to mind: “While they were at supper, He took the bread and gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to His disciples, and said, “Take this all of you and eat it. This is my Body, which will be given up for you.”

A fascinating thing then occurs: With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:31).

It is the very act of consecration that opens their eyes. Is this not what Holy Communion is to do for us? Are we not to learn to recognize Christ by the very mysteries we celebrate? Are we not to “taste and see”?

The liturgy and the sacraments are not mere rituals; they are encounters with Jesus Christ. Through our repeated celebration of the holy mysteries, our eyes are increasingly opened, if we are faithful. We learn to see and hear Christ in the liturgy, to experience his ministry to us.

The fact that Jesus vanishes from their sight teaches us that He is no longer seen with the eyes of the flesh, but with the eyes of faith and the eyes of the heart. Although He is gone from our earthly, fleshly, carnal sight, He is now to be seen in the sacrament of the altar and experienced in the Liturgy and in other sacraments. The Mass has reached its pinnacle for these two disciples and for us. They have tasted and now they see.

Consider these two men who began this Gospel quite downcast. Their hearts are on fire and they now see. The Lord has celebrated Mass in order to get them to this point. So, too, for us: the Lord celebrates Mass in order to set our hearts on fire and open our eyes to glory. We need to taste in order to see.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. … Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:4-8).

Yes, blessed are we if we faithfully taste in order to see, every Sunday at Mass.

Stage Six: Ite Missa Est – Not able to contain their joy or hide their experience, the two disciples run seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell their brethren what has happened and how they encountered Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They want to, they must speak of the Christ they have encountered, what He said and what He did.

Note that this liturgy has reoriented them. They are now heading back east, toward the Risen Son.

How about us? At the end of every Mass, the priest or deacon says, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.” This does not mean, “We’re done, go home and have nice day.” It means, “Go into the world and bring the Christ you have received to others. Tell them what you have seen and heard here, what you have experienced. Share with others the joy and hope that this Liturgy gives.”

Have you ever noticed that part of the word “mission” is in the word “dismissal”? You are being commissioned, sent on a mission to announce Christ to others.

Finally, the Lucan text says of these two disciples, So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them … Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:33,35). How about us? Does our Mass finish that well, that enthusiastically? Can you tell others that you have come to Christ in “the breaking of the bread,” in the Mass?

Jesus has used the Mass to drawn them from gloom to glory, from downcast to delighted, from darkness to light. It was the Mass. Do you “see” it there? It is the Mass. What else could it be?

Here is a video version of this homily

See What the End Shall Be – A Homily for Palm Sunday

The Passion, which we read in the liturgy for Palm Sunday, is too long to comment on in detail, so we will only examine a portion of it here.

It may be of some value to examine the problems associated with the more moderate range of personalities involved. The usual villains (the Temple leaders, Judas, and the recruited crowd shouting, “Crucify him!”) are unambiguously wicked and display their sinfulness openly. But there are others involved whose struggles and neglectfulness are more subtle, yet no less real. It is in examining these figures that we can learn a great deal about ourselves, who, though we may not openly shout, “Crucify him,” are often not as unambiguously holy and heroic as Jesus’ persecutors are wicked and bold.

As we read the Passion we must understand that this is not merely an account of the behavior of people long gone, they are portraits of you and me; we do these things.

I. The Perception that is Partial – Near the beginning of today’s Passion account, the apostles, who are at the Last Supper with Jesus, are reminded of what the next days will hold. Jesus says,

This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.” But after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.

Note that the apostles are not being told these things for the first time; Jesus has spoken them before on numerous occasions:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Matt 16:21).

When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief (Matt 17:22-23).

We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life” (Matt 20:18-19).

Thus we see that the Lord has consistently tried to teach and prepare them for the difficulties ahead. He has told them exactly what is going to happen and how it will end: not in death, but rising to new life. But even though He has told them over and over again, they still do not understand. Therefore He predicts that their faith in Him will be shaken.

Their perception is partial. They will see only the negative, forgetting that Jesus has promised to rise. Because they cannot see beyond the apparent defeat of the moment they will retreat into fear rather than boldly and confidently accompanying Him to His passion and glorification (for His passion is a lifting up; it is His glorification). Instead they will flee. He has shown the “what the end shall be,” but they can neither see nor accept it. Thus fear overwhelms them and they withdraw into a sinful fear, dissociating themselves from Jesus. Only a few (Mary, His Mother; John; Mary Magdalene; and a few other women) would see Him through to the end.

As for the rest, they see only what is gory and awful, missing what is glory and awesome. Their perception is quite partial. Paradoxically, their blindness comes from not hearing or listening to what Jesus has been telling them all along.

We, too, can easily suffer from a blindness caused by poor listening. The Lord has often told us that if we trust in Him, then our struggles will end in glory and new life. But, blind and forgetful, we give in to our fears and fail to walk the way of Christ’s passion boldly. We draw back and dissociate ourselves from Jesus, exhibiting some of the same tendencies we will observe in the people of that day.

Next, let’s examine some of the problems that emerge from this partial perception and forgetful fear.

II. The Problems Presented – There are at least five problems that emerge. They are unhealthy and sinful patterns that spring from the fear generated by not trusting Jesus’ vision. Please understand that the word “we” used here is shorthand and does not mean that every single person does this. Rather, it means that collectively we have these tendencies. There’s no need to take everything here personally.

1. They become drowsy – A common human technique for dealing with stress and the hardships of life is to become numb and drowsy; we can just drift off into a sort of moral slumber. Being vigilant against the threat posed to our souls by sin or the harm caused by injustice (whether to ourselves or to others) is just too stressful, so we just “tune out.” We stop noticing or really even caring about critically important matters. We anesthetize ourselves with things like alcohol, drugs, creature comforts, and meaningless distractions. Prayer and spirituality pose too many uncomfortable questions, so we just daydream about meaningless things like what a certain Hollywood star is doing or how the latest sporting event is going.

In the Passion accounts, the Lord asks Peter, James, and John to pray with Him. But they doze off. Perhaps it is the wine. Surely it is the flesh (for the Lord speaks of it). Unwilling or unable to deal with the stress of the situation, they get drowsy and doze off. Grave evil is at the very door, but they sleep. The Lord warns them to stay awake, lest they give way to temptation, but still they sleep. Someone they know and love is in grave danger, but it is too much for them to handle. They tune out, much as we do in the face of the overwhelming suffering of Christ visible in the poor and needy. We just stop noticing; it’s too painful, so we tune out.

The Lord had often warned them to be vigilant, sober, and alert (Mk 13:34, Matt 25:13, Mk 13:37; Matt 24:42; Luke 21:36, inter al). Other Scriptures would later pick up the theme (Romans 13:11; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Thess 5:6, inter al). Yes, drowsiness is a serious spiritual problem.

Sadly, God described us well when He remarked to Isaiah, Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep (Is 56:10).

We do this not only out of laziness, but also out of fear. One strategy is to try to ignore it, to go numb, to tune out. But despite the sleepiness of the disciples, the wicked are still awake; the threat does not go away by a drowsy inattentiveness to it. Thus we ought to be confident and sober. Life’s challenges are nothing to fear. The Lord has told us that we have already won if we will just trust in Him. The disciples have forgotten Jesus’ promise to rise after three days; we often do the same. So they, and we, just give in to the stress and tune out.

2. They seek to destroy – When Peter finally awaken, he lashes out with a sword and wounds Malchus, the servant of the high priest. The Lord rebukes Peter and reminds him of the vision: Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? (John 18:11) Jesus then heals Malchus, who tradition says later became a follower.

In our fear, we, too, can often lash out and even seek to destroy our opponents. But if we are already certain of our victory, as the Lord has promised, why do we fear? Why do we need to suppress our opponents and enemies ruthlessly? It is one thing to speak the truth in love, boldly and confidently. But it is quite another to lash out aggressively and seek to win a debate. In so doing, we may lose a soul. The Lord healed Malchus, seeing in Him a future disciple. The Lord saw what the end would be. Peter did not. In fear, he lashed out with an aggression that did not bespeak a confidence in final victory.

It is true that we are required to confront evil, resist injustice, and speak with clarity to a confused world. But above all, we are called to love those whom we address. There is little place for fear in our conversations with the world. The truth will out; it will prevail. We may not win every encounter, but we do not have to; all we must do is plant seeds. God will water them and others may well harvest them. In Christ, we have already won. This confidence should give us serenity.

Peter has forgotten Jesus’ promise to rise after three days; we often do the same. So Peter, and we, give in to fear and lash out, driven by a desire to win when in fact we have already won.

3. They deny – Confronted with the fearful prospect of being condemned along with Jesus, Peter denies being one of His followers or even knowing Him at all. He dissociates himself from Christ. And we, confronted with the possibility of far milder things such as ridicule, often deny a connection with the Lord or the Church.

Regarding one of the more controversial Scripture teachings (e.g., the command to tithe; the prohibition against divorce, fornication, and homosexual activity) some might ask, “You don’t really believe that, do you?” It’s very easy to give in to fear and to respond, “No,” or to qualify our belief. Why suffer ridicule, endure further questioning, or be drawn into an unpleasant debate? So we just dissociate from, compromise, or qualify our faith to avoid the stress. We even congratulate ourselves for being tolerant when we do it!

Jesus says, If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels (Mk 8:38). But too easily we are ashamed. And so, like Peter, we engage in some form of denial. Peter is afraid because he has forgotten to “see what the end shall be.” He has forgotten Jesus’ promise to rise after three days; we often do the same. We lack confidence and give in to fear; we deny in order to avoid suffering with Jesus.

4. They dodge – When Jesus is arrested, all the disciples except John “split.” They “get the heck out of Dodge.” They are nowhere to be found. After Jesus’ arrest, it is said that Peter (prior to his denials) followed the Lord at a distance (Mk 14:54). But as soon as trouble arose, he “scrammed.”

We, too, can run away. Sometimes it’s because of persecution by the world. But sometimes it’s our fear that following the Lord is too hard and involves sacrifices that we are just not willing to make. Maybe it will endanger our money (the Lord insists that we tithe and be generous to the poor). Maybe it will endanger our playboy lifestyle (the Lord insists on chastity and respect). Maybe we don’t want to stop doing something that we have no business doing, something that is unjust, excessive, or sinful. But rather than face our fears, whether they come from within or without, we just hightail it out.

The disciples have forgotten that Jesus has shown them “what the end shall be.” In three days, he will win the victory. But, this forgotten, their fears emerge and they run. We too, must see “what the end shall be” in order to confront and resist our many fears.

5. They deflect – In this case our example is Pontius Pilate, not one of the disciples. Pilate was summoned to faith just like anyone else. “Are you a king?” he asks Jesus. Jesus responds by putting Pilate on trial: “Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” Pilate has a choice to make: accept that what Jesus is saying as true, or give in to fear and commit a terrible sin of injustice. The various accounts in Scripture all make it clear that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. But because he feared the crowds he handed Jesus over.

Note that Pilate did this. The crowds tempted him through fear, but he did the condemning. Yet notice that he tries to deflect his choice. The text says, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility” (Mat 27:24). Well actually, Pilate, it is also your responsibility. You had a choice and you made it. Your own career and your own hide were more important to you than justice was. And though you wanted to do what was right and were sympathetic with Jesus, merely wanting to do what is right is not enough.

So, too, for us. We also often favor our career or our hide over doing what is right. And in so doing, we often blame others for what we have freely chosen. “I’m not responsible because my mother dropped me on my head when I was two.”

We are often willing to say, in effect,

“Look, Jesus, I love you. You get my Sundays, and my tithe, and I obey you (generally, anyway). But you have to understand that I have a career; I need to make money for my family. If I really stand up for what’s right, I might not make it in this world. You understand, don’t you? I know the company I work for is doing some things that are unjust. I know the world needs a clearer witness from me. I’ll do all that—after I retire. But for now, well, you know… Besides, it’s really my boss who’s to blame. It’s this old hell-bound, sin-soaked world that’s to blame, not me!”

We try to wash our hands of responsibility. We excuse our silence and inaction in the face of injustice and sin.

And all this is done out of fear. We forget “what the end shall be” and focus on the fearful present. We lack the vision that Jesus is trying to give us: that we will rise with Him. We stay blind to that and only see the threat of the here and now.

III. The Path that is Prescribed – By now you ought to know the path that is prescribed: see what the end shall be. In three days we rise! Why are we afraid? Jesus has already won the victory. It is true that we get there through the cross, but never forget what the end shall be! Today we read the Gospel of Friday, but wait till Sunday morning! I’ll rise!

We end where we began with this Gospel: This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed;’ but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.

Yes, after He has been raised He goes before us into Galilee. And for us, Galilee is Heaven. Whatever our sorrows, if we are faithful we will see Jesus in the Galilee of Heaven. Never forget this vision. After three days, we will rise with Him and be reunited with Him in the Galilee of Heaven.

So take courage; see what the end shall be! The end for those who are faithful is total victory. We don’t need to drowse, destroy, deny, dodge, or deflect; we’ve already won. All we need to do is to hold out.

I have it on the best of authority that Mother Mary was singing the following gospel song with St. John for a brief time while at the foot of the cross, as they looked past that Friday to the Sunday that was coming:

It’s all right, it’s all right.
My Jesus said he’ll fix it and it’s all right.

Sometimes I’m up sometimes I’m down.
But Jesus he’ll fix it and it’s all right.

Sometimes I’m almost on the ground.
My Jesus said he’ll fix it and it’s all right.

What Does It Mean When the Scriptures Say That the Apostles Worshiped the Risen Jesus but That Some Doubted?

There is a passage in the Gospel of Matthew that can seem puzzling:

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted (Matt 28:16-17).

What is this doubt to which the text refers? It is all the more perplexing if we recall that this is not the first time the apostles had encountered the Risen Lord. There are almost a dozen other documented appearances (in Scripture) of Jesus to some or all of the disciples before this final one, which takes place just before His ascension. Why do they still doubt?

The Greek word translated as “doubted” sheds more light on the meaning: it is distázō, which more richly means to “waver” (from dís, (two) + stásis, (stance)). So, the Greek describes having two different stances or vacillating between two positions. Thus, the apostles are not necessarily being described as stubbornly doubting or refusing to believe. It is more likely that they are struggling to believe or understand.

But the question remains, why?

Perhaps we ought to remember that we have the advantage of two millennia of reflection on Christ’s resurrection. For the apostles, the resurrection challenged everything they knew and had experienced. There is a scene in Mark’s Gospel that points to this:

As they were coming down the mountain [of the Transfiguration], Jesus admonished them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept this matter to themselves, questioning what it meant to rise from the dead (Mark 9:9-10).

It certainly helped that they had seen both Lazarus and the son of the widow of Nain raised from the dead, but those were different; this was Jesus rising by His own power.

Further, the resurrection narratives indicate that there was something mysterious and supernatural in the manifestation of Jesus’ glorified body. Some don’t recognize Him at first. He is not a ghost or an apparition because they can touch Him, and He eats and drinks with them. However, He can appear and then disappear suddenly. So, He is among them, but sporadically and mysteriously.

Thus, there is something quite human in the apostles’ response. How does one get his mind and heart around so startling a mystery? Consider what questions must have been in the mind of each of them: Who is this? Is Jesus a ghost? No, because I can touch Him. It is clearly Jesus, but something seems different about Him. Am I really sure it’s Jesus? Am I dreaming? I can’t just go and see Him now on my own terms, as I did before, because He appears and disappears at will. What does all this mean for me? He keeps saying that He will send the Spirit, who will explain everything. When? How?

Thus, what we are reading is a portrait of quite human apostles, who are trying to process an astonishing event that was previously unimaginable. So remarkable is it that they vacillate, even after having seen Him. At one point, Peter even ponders returning to fishing (See John 21:3).

Jesus does not seem troubled by their “doubt” or wavering; He gives them the great commission anyway:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20).

Jesus knows that their doubts will be clarified soon enough, when He sends the Holy Spirit to remind them of everything He said (John 14:26), glorify Him in their minds (John 16:14), and lead them to all truth (John 16:13).

Indeed, after Pentecost, the apostles are changed men; they show no wavering or doubt. As we make our way on our journey, the Holy Spirit confirms our faltering faith and makes it more steady, strong, and sure. It is for us to continue to grow and to allow the Holy Spirit to quicken our faith. It is crucial, for the great commission is still upon the Church.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Does It Mean When the Scriptures Say That the Apostles Worshiped the Risen Jesus but That Some Doubted?

An Easter Exhortation

We’ve had quite a week of gatherings here in Washington, D.C. during this Easter Octave. The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast was held on Tuesday and I was privileged to be able to speak to the organizers of that event on Monday evening. On Friday there was a wonderful gathering of leaders from EWTN and our local affiliate, WMET 1160 AM. Catholic radio and Catholic television have had a profound effect on the lives and faith of so many!

Despite the Easter glow, there was also at those gatherings a sober awareness that these are dark days and that the Lord is calling us to be willing to suffer and sacrifice for the truth of the gospel.

Recent readings from Scripture have also had this theme. The readings in daily Mass this past week (from the Acts of the Apostles) show the joy of a poor, lame man healed by Peter and John at the Gate called Beautiful. By week’s end Peter and John were arrested for the “dangerous” act of glorifying Jesus and forced to appear before the Jewish court. More suffering and arrests would follow.

In the Office of Readings, we are reading from the First Letter of Peter, which is a kind of survival guide for those who suffer on account of Jesus. Consider these excerpts from this past week:

Do not be surprised, beloved, that a trial by fire is occurring in your midst. It is a test for you, but it should not catch you off guard. Rejoice instead, in the measure that you share Christ’s sufferings. When his glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly. Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God’s Spirit in its glory has come to rest on you ….

The season of judgment has begun, and begun with God’s own household. If it begins this way with us, what must be the end for those who refuse obedience to the gospel of God? And if the just man is saved only with difficulty, what is to become of the godless and the sinner? Accordingly, let those who suffer as God’s will requires continue in good deeds, and entrust their lives to a faithful Creator….

Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world. The God of all grace, who called you to his everlasting glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish those who have suffered a little while. Dominion be his throughout the ages! Amen (1 Peter 4:12-5:14).

I have written before on the bloodiness of the Christmas Octave; the Easter Octave is not much different. The ancient Church had little time for the sentimentality we have introduced into the celebrations of Christmas and Easter. Indeed, there was no Santa Claus with flying reindeer, no Easter bunny, no Easter parades. Jesus was born to do battle and rose to show forth the victory. But a victory presupposes a battle and a struggle.

The Sequence that should be sung during the Easter Octave is as follows:

Mors et vita duello,            (Death and life have contended)
conflixere mirando:           (in a stupendous conflict)
dux vitae mortuus,             (The Prince of life having died)
regnat vivus!                         (Now reigns living).

Easter is serious business with a message that summons us to the battle with confidence. In effect the message is this:

Enough of all this cowardice. No more hiding out in upper rooms. Get out there like soldiers who know they are on the winning team. Manfully engage the battle and win some souls for Christ. As in any war, there is going to be suffering. Jesus says, In this world you shall have tribulation; but have confidence I have overcome the world (John 16:33). The Easter message is not that there is no battle, but rather that the battle is a glorious one whose outcome has already been decided. Choose sides!

Scripture says,

Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. All the peoples of the earth will lament Him. Yes, Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:5-8).

Make sure you are on the winning team. Some people foolishly choose the wrong side, thinking that winning means having power, popularity, money, and possessions—that is not victory. A team can be ahead until the final play of the game yet still lose. You already know who is going to win; present appearances mean nothing. Choose the winning team even if, for now, it means being subjected to ridicule, disapproval, and desertion. Be ready and willing to suffer for the Kingdom. The Easter message is not that there is no suffering, but that our suffering, united to Jesus’, will lead to glory and victory.

Stop acting like a loser, hiding out and being afraid to announce the truth of the gospel. Stop being so anxious about what others are saying. You may be called hateful, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, backward, and uptight—anything but a child of God. Do not hate them, but keep on summoning them to join us; know that some will do so if you persevere. Be willing to suffer for the truth and still remain joyful.

Peter and John were arrested in the first week after Pentecost; can’t we at least tolerate a raised eyebrow or some laughter at our expense? The martyrs stared down deadly threats; they endured the swords and lions of a hateful, scornful world. Must they bear the cross alone?

The Easter message is not one of cheap joy. It is about a courageous transformation that equips us to be willing to face down death in order to proclaim the truth of the gospel. We are going to need this in the years ahead. This fallen world is going to get darker, and a people used to the darkness despises the light. To those who hate the truth, it seems hateful; they will call themselves righteous as they expel us from the public square. They already label themselves victims at the mere utterance of moral truth. “Safe zones” will have no room for us. Despite all their calls for tolerance, there will be no tolerance shown to us. Our speech and our actions will be increasingly criminalized.

This is my Easter exhortation. What do you think of it? If you think it is too negative, why? If you like it, great. Will you live it? How? When? Why not now?

Catholic catechist, speaker, and writer Dr. David Anders spoke to us at the EWTN/WMET gathering about something Mother Angelica once said. When asked what she thought the future of EWTN would be she said, “Nothing lasts forever. For now, we have an open window of opportunity and we should use it while we can. For one day, the window may close and EWTN will be declared illegal. Let’s strengthen everyone now, while we still have the time”—a sober understanding to say the least. Courage and action today will lay the groundwork for what will be needed tomorrow.

Jesus is risen from the dead and He is not going away. He has won the victory and I will either gather souls with Him, or I will scatter and squander. I will work for Him and win, or I will contend with Him and lose. I think I’ll choose Jesus!

The song in the clip below has these lyrics:

I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
And He told me that I would go hungry if He changed my name
And He told me that I would go hungry if He changed my name
Yes He told me that I would go hungry if He changed my name
But I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
So I told Him it would be alright and the world would hate me
That I would go hungry if He changed my name

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: An Easter Exhortation

How Can We Understand the Passage About the Dead Coming Forth From Their Tombs When Jesus Died on the Cross?

There is a passage in Matthew’s Gospel which says something quite astonishing but then leaves us starved for more information:

[When Jesus died on the cross], the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (Mt. 27: 52-53).

It is a very mysterious text that does not lend itself to simple or satisfying explanations. Was this reported elsewhere in literature from time? Why do the other Gospels not mention something so startling? Who rose? How many? What happened after they rose? Did they go back to life in Jerusalem or did they appear for only a moment?

We are simply left to wonder as to the details. But we must recall that each of the Evangelists selected their material carefully and according to set purposes. Brevity of written texts in those times was more important than verbiage given the costly nature of writing long before the printing press.

Matthew seems to have two purposes in mind: he reports what actually happened, but he does this with the goal of showing how scripture is fulfilled. For example,

  • Therefore prophesy and tell them that this is what the Lord GOD says: ‘O My people, I will open your graves and bring you up from them, and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, My people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. (Ezekiel 37:12-13)
  • I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from Death. Where, O Death, are your plagues? Where, O Sheol, is your sting? (Hosea 13:14)

The main purpose of Matthew in recounting the event seems to be a relating of the fulfillment of Scripture, not reporting all the details as if we were watching an episode of the “night of the living dead.”

Further, the rending of the veil in the temple and the earthquake reported in earlier verses of the same passage are not just events; they are signs of God’s judgment on this world. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Christ gave the world the only serious wound it ever received, the wound of an empty tomb.” This world is shaken by Christ’s death and the rending of the veil indicates He, and not the Temple rituals, has opened the way out of this world and unto the Father.

The details of the passage about the dead come forth and appearing to many are sparse. But what should be avoided is the elaborated notions of our imagination that the dead emerged from their tombs and wandered the streets in a zombie-like way. This is not an American horror film being described. Rather, Matthew asserts that many (indicating more than a few, but not necessarily thousands, hundreds or even dozens) rose bodily and appeared to many (again, indicating more than a few, but not necessarily thousands, hundreds or even dozens). How they appeared and to whom is not elaborated. But the text does not directly report them walking about Jerusalem and being seen indiscriminately by everyone. It may well have been a select number who were privileged to encounter the risen dead. It is similar to the way that Scripture reports the appearances of Jesus: He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen–by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. (Acts 10:41)

Beyond this, the details permit little more than speculation about this mysterious and wondrous incident.

St. Thomas Aquinas, basing his views on Jerome, says several things about this passage in his Commentary on Matthew :

First of all he does not think this event actually happened at this moment of the Lord’s death, but only after the Lord’s resurrection. And thus Matthew puts it here as a kind of proleptic. St Thomas says, 

And one should note that although this was said in the description of Christ’s death, yet one should understand that it was said by way of anticipation, because it was done after the resurrection; for Christ is the first begotten of the dead (Rev 1:5).

Further, he speculates on the possibility that the Holy City mentioned here where they appear may not have been Jerusalem at all, but the Holy City called heaven. He writes:

And they came into the holy city, not because it was holy [at that time], but because it had been before; how is the faithful city, that was full of judgment, become a harlot? (Isa 1:21). Or, it is called holy because holy things were done there. Or, following Jerome, [they entered] into the holy city, namely the heavenly city, because they went with Christ into glory. And appeared to many.

He also concludes that they rose and did not die again at some later time:

There is usually a question about these people, whether they rose again and died again, or did not die. It is agreed that some have arisen and later died, like Lazarus. But one can say about these people that they rose and did not die again, because they rose for the manifestation of Christ’s resurrection, and it is certain that Christ rising again from the dead, dies now no more (Rom 6:9). Also, if they had risen only to die again, it would not have been a kindness shown them but rather an injury; therefore they rose to enter into heaven with Christ.

St. Thomas also summarizes the Church Fathers in the Catena Aurea. Here are a few citations:

  • Hilary of Poitier describes the earthquake and the dead coming forth as a kind of judgment on this world: “The earth quaked,” because it was unequal to contain such a body; “the rocks rent,” for the Word of God that pierces all strong and mighty things, and the virtue of the eternal Power had penetrated them; “the graves were opened,” for the bands of death were loosed. “And many bodies of the saints which slept arose,” for illumining the darkness of death, and shedding light upon the gloom of Hades, He robbed the spirits of death.
  • John Chrysostom speaks of the event as a great victory for those who had died in friendship with God awaiting the Messiah: When He remained on the cross they had said tauntingly, “He saved others, himself he cannot save.” But what He would not do for Himself, that He did and more than that for the bodies of the Saints. For if it was a great thing to raise Lazarus after four days, much more was it that they who had long slept should now show themselves alive; this is indeed a proof of the resurrection to come. But that it might not be thought that that which was done was an appearance merely, the Evangelist adds, “And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
  • Remigius says: We ought therefore to believe without hesitation that they who rose from the dead at the Lord’s resurrection, ascended also into heaven together with Him.
  • Origen does not deny the event but spiritualizes its ongoing meaning for us: These same mighty works are still done every day; the veil of the temple is rent for the Saints, in order to reveal the things that are contained within. The earthquakes, that is, all flesh because of the new word and new things of the New Testament. The rocks are rent, i.e. the mystery of the Prophets, that we may see the spiritual mysteries bid in their depths. The graves are the bodies of sinful souls, that is, souls dead to God; but when by God’s grace these souls have been raised, their bodies which before were graves, become [p. 965] bodies of Saints, and appear to go out of themselves, and follow Him who rose again, and walk with Him in newness of life; and such as are worthy to have their conversation in heaven enter into the Holy City at divers times, and appear unto many who see their good works.

And thus passage, fascinating though difficult, is explained in various ways by the Patristic and scholastic tradition.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: How Can We Understand the Passage About the Dead Coming Forth From Their Tombs When Jesus Died on the Cross?

Why Didn’t Christ Stay with His Disciples Continually from the Resurrection to His Ascension?

After Christ rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples at certain places and times, but did not seem to stay with them continuously. On the first Easter Sunday, He appeared six times in rather rapid succession: first to Mary Magdalene, then to the women at the tomb, third as the women left the tomb, fourth to Peter, fifth to the two disciples going to Emmaus, and sixth to the ten Apostles in Jerusalem (when Thomas was not present).

In His public ministry, Jesus seemed to be with His disciples nearly all the time. However, after His Resurrection he would appear, converse, and teach, but then be absent from them bodily. For example, John 20:26 says that “after eight days” Christ appeared to the disciples, suggesting that He was not otherwise present to them during that period.

While it is true that we do not have an exact calendar of His appearances and not every appearance is necessary recorded, it seems apparent that the Lord was not constantly with the disciples during the forty days prior to His ascension.

Why is this?

St. Thomas Aquinas reflected on this question and offers two basic reasons. In so doing he does not propose an absolute explanation, but rather demonstrates why it was fitting that Christ was not with them continuously during the forty days prior to the ascension. St. Thomas writes,

Concerning the Resurrection two things had to be manifested to the disciples, namely, the truth of the Resurrection, and the glory of Him who rose.

Now in order to manifest the truth of the Resurrection, it sufficed for Him to appear several times before them, to speak familiarly to them, to eat and drink, and let them touch Him. But in order to manifest the glory of the risen Christ, He was not desirous of living with them constantly as He had done before, lest it might seem that He rose unto the same life as before … [For as Bede says] “He had then risen in the same flesh, but was not in the same state of mortality as they.”

That Christ did not stay continually with the disciples was not because He deemed it more expedient to be elsewhere: but because He judged it to be more suitable for the apostles’ instruction that He should not abide continually with them, for the reason given above.

He appeared oftener on the first day, because the disciples were to be admonished by many proofs to accept the faith in His Resurrection from the very out set: but after they had once accepted it, they had no further need of being instructed by so many apparitions (Summa Theologiae, Part III, Q. 55, Art. 3).

While St. Thomas observes that there may well be appearances that were not recorded, he is inclined to hold that there were not a lot more of them. He writes,

One reads in the Gospel that after the first day He appeared again only five times. For, as Augustine says (De Consens. Evang. iii), after the first five apparitions “He came again a sixth time when Thomas saw Him; a seventh time was by the sea of Tiberias at the capture of the fishes; the eighth was on the mountain of Galilee, according to Matthew; the ninth occasion is expressed by Mark, ‘at length when they were at table,’ because no more were they going to eat with Him upon earth; the tenth was on the very day, when no longer upon the earth, but uplifted into the cloud, He was ascending into heaven. But, as John admits, not all things were written down. And He visited them frequently before He went up to heaven,” in order to comfort them. Hence it is written (1 Corinthians 15:6-7) that “He was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once … after that He was seen by James”; of which apparitions no mention is made in the Gospels (ibid).

St. Thomas strikes a balance between the Lord’s need to instruct them and summon them to faith in the resurrection, and the need for them to grasp His risen glory. Christ did not merely resume His former life. The disciples were not to cling to their former understandings of Him as Rabbi and teacher; now they were to grasp more fully that He is Lord.

Though Thomas does not mention it here, I would add another reason for the Lord’s action of not abiding with them continuously: It was fitting for Him to do this to accustom them to the fact that they would no longer see Him as they had with their physical eyes. Once He ascended, they would see Him mystically in the Sacraments and in His Body the Church. Thus, as the Lord broke the Bread and gave it them in Emmaus, they recognized Him the Eucharist (Luke 24). Thereupon He vanished from them. It was as if to say, “You will no longer go on seeing me in the same manner. Now you will experience me mystically and in the Sacraments.”

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Why Didn’t Christ Stay with His Disciples Continually from the Resurrection to His Ascension?

Why Was the Resurrection Such a Hidden Event?

There is something of a hidden quality to the resurrection appearances that has always puzzled me. St. Peter gives voice to this when he says to Cornelius,

God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:41-42).

Note that Jesus did not appear openly to all but rather only to some. Why? It is so different from what most of us would do!

If I were God (and it is very good for you that I am not), I would rise from the dead very dramatically. Perhaps I would summon people to my tomb with trumpet blasts and then emerge amid great fanfare (including a multitude of angels), inspiring awe and striking fear in the hearts of the enemies who had killed me. Or maybe I would ride down on a lightning bolt right into the temple precincts and then go up to the high priest and tell him to seek other employment. Surely it would be an event that would never be forgotten! It would draw many to faith, would it not?

Yet the Lord does none of this! Not only did He appear only to some after His resurrection, but the dramatic moment of the resurrection itself was apparently witnessed by no one at all. Instead of emerging from the tomb in broad daylight to the sound of trumpets, the Lord seems to have come forth before dawn to the sound of nothing but crickets chirping. Although St. Matthew mentions an earthquake causing the rolling back of the stone and the guards being stunned into unconsciousness, it appears that Jesus had already risen from the dead before the stone was rolled back.

Such a hidden event! It was the greatest event the world has ever known, and yet it was hidden from human eyes. No, this is not our way at all; Cecil B. DeMille, the great Hollywood director of epic movies, would not be pleased.

Jesus made one appearance to a large group, which Paul relates here:

He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:5-6).

He appeared to more than five hundred people at once, yet no details are supplied! Where did it happen? When? What did the Lord say? What did He do?

Then there are the resurrection appearances that never happened (but to worldly minds should have): Jesus’ appearance to His accusers and persecutors, to Caiaphas, to the Sanhedrin, to Pilate, to all who jeered at Him as He hung on the cross. Surely, they deserved a good dressing down—and it probably would’ve been good for them as well. Who knows, maybe they would have fallen to their knees and converted on the spot; maybe they would have worshiped Jesus.

Such are my thoughts on the strange and hidden quality of the resurrection. Why was it so hidden? Why so selective an audience? Ultimately, I can only venture a guess, a kind of theological hunch, if you will.

My speculation is rooted in the identity of God: God is love (1 Jn 4:16). Love is not merely something God does, nor is it just one of His many attributes. Scripture says that God is love. It is in the nature of true love (as opposed to lust) for the lover to invite (or woo) his beloved rather than overwhelming, coercing, or forcing. The lover wants to be loved, but forcing his beloved into a fearful love would mean not receiving true love in return.

It is Satan’s nature to pressure, tempt, and overwhelm us in order to get us to sin. He is loud and loves to use fear as a motivator.

In contrast, God whispers. He calls us and gently draws us in. He provides evidence and supplies grace but does not overwhelm us with fearsome or noisy events. He is the still, small voice that Elijah heard after the fire and the earthquake (1 Kings 19:12). He has written His name in our hearts and whispers there quietly: Seek always the face of the Lord (1 Chron 16:11). At times He permits our life to be shaken up a bit, but even then it is more often something that He allows rather than directly causes.

God is generally not interested in making loud, flashy entrances or humiliating His opponents. He does not have a big ego. Even if He chose to compel the Temple leadership to worship Him by using shock and awe, it is unlikely that their faith response would have been genuine. Faith that needs to “see” isn’t really faith; one doesn’t need faith to believe what can be plainly seen.

Thus, the Lord does rise from the dead and He does supply evidence to witnesses who had faith—at least enough faith to be rewarded. He then sends these eyewitnesses to us, supplies His graces, and provides us with other evidence so that we can believe and love. None of this, however, is done in a way that overwhelms us or forces us to believe.

God is love and love seeks a free and faithful response. The hiddenness of the resurrection is an example of tender love. There’s only so much that the human person can take. So, the Lord rises quietly and appears (but only briefly) to some and then seems to withdraw—almost as if respectfully giving them time to process what they have experienced. He gives them time to deepen their faith and to come to terms with what was for them a completely new reality, one that would change their lives forever.

How different this is from the way we operate! So many of us think in terms of power, fame, glory, vindication, and conquest. How different God is! He is so often tender, hidden, and quiet. He doesn’t need to get “credit” for everything He does. He doesn’t need to crush His enemies. Rather, ruing the day on which their no might become a forever no, He works to win their love, always aiming for their conversion. Until our final breath, He is always calling, willing, and giving grace. His mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.

Why was the resurrection so hidden? God is love, and love woos; it does not wound. It invites; it does not incite. It calls; it does not crush. It respects; it does not rule or seek revenge. Yes, God is love.

Of her glorious Groom, the Church and Bride says,

Listen! My beloved! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice … [He speaks to her and says,] “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me” (Song 2:9-10).

Here’s how Cecil B. DeMille might do the Easter fire:

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Why Was the Resurrection Such a Hidden Event?