Today's Gospel reading provides another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. I love how overjoyed they are, running to announce more good tidings to the disciples. So many conversations between Jesus and His followers must have transpired between the Resurrection and Ascension. It might have been fun to listen in on what was said. But I suspect we know a great deal from the writings and teachings of the early church.
In the passage today, we also find a more troubling course of action that persists to our day. That is explaining away the Resurrection. Matthew records a conspiracy of sorts, where the chief priests sought to suppress the testimony of the tomb guards about Jesus being raised to life. These types of conspiracy theories are like weeds that pop up every spring with the flowering fields. Pluck them out and others pop up in different places.
On one level, what we learn here is of historical interest. The empty tomb of Jesus is a reasonably well-attested historical fact. A very accessible article on this subject can be found here. Jesus' tomb was empty and His opponents needed to explain it. They knew His followers would report what they saw, so the seeds of a lie needed to be sown. At best, this effort was met with mixed results. For we know the early church began in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus was killed and buried, and spread from there. It would be impossible for anyone there to take the theory of grave robbing seriously, especially if those grave robbers were Jesus' own disciples who later faced extreme persecution and social ostracization for their proclamation of the Resurrection. The disciples all knew Jesus was dead. They had no reason at all to steal the body, having no belief at the time of Jesus' death of any resurrection before the last days. There was no plausible motive for stealing the body. The chief priests' story was a complete sham. It reminds me of the story of Susanna.
On another level, we see the amazing schemes of those opposed to God. How far they will go to stand athwart truth and light. How subtle and prima facie plausible are their lies and deceit! But as soon as we look closer, we see these claims, these "resurrection rationalizations" for what they are; futile attempts to look away from the work of God, to make the work of God into the work of man.
Matthew's recording of this early attempt to explain away the Resurrection should help us keep our attention on where the same issue comes up in our day. Each generation of Christians had to deal with this claim. We can address the critic with dignity and charity while maintaining the objective historicity of Jesus being raised from the dead.
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