Monday, April 10, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 28:8-15

In today’s Gospel, we read about the early polemic that was circulated in and around Jerusalem concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Because He was publicly killed by crucifixion and visibly placed - and sealed - in a known location, Jesus’ opponents had no other option to explain the empty tomb and multiple eyewitness reports of the resurrection. 

Since Jesus had claimed He would rise again, the resurrection reports must have caused quite a panic in the chief priests. They knew that if Jesus had been raised from the dead, God had done this marvelous act. And if God had done something like this, the clear implication was Jesus was a true prophet and not a blasphemer. On one level, they had the knowledge of killing an innocent man. On a deeper level, Jesus being raised would have vindicated His teachings and self-understanding as the unique Son of God. 

What we see in Jesus’ opponents, then and now, is a desperate flailing about in order to escape the love and truth of God in Christ. Just like a drowning man repeatedly slapping away the shepherd's hook extended for his rescue, the impenitent heart casts about for anything but God. Claiming the disciples of Jesus stole his body out of the tomb and made up a resurrection story is, of course, the height of absurdity. One believes in such possibilities only through the acceptance of antecedent assumptions, none of which are ultimately sustainable. 

The disciples were just as surprised as anyone else that Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospels are clear on this point. Self-incriminating accounts permeate resurrection narratives that breathe the air of authenticity. The resurrection was shocking to literally everyone. But it could not be denied any more than the witnesses could have denied the rising of the sun. 

To think that a group of scared and scattered followers of a crucified rabbi would steal the body away from a known tomb (to where?) and make up a story (about something they didn’t have a conception of), and then not only they, but hundreds of people not in their immediate cohort, told the exact same story about the dead man’s appearing, strains credulity beyond the breaking point. 

There was no real basis for anyone to think the disciples stole the body, but the leaders had to tell people something in order to sweep their sins under the rug. I believe that is at least a large part of the reason St. Matthew includes this early polemic against the Christians in his Gospel. Not so much for apologetic reasons, but to show how hard the heart can be set against the loving hand of God. 

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