We have all had the experience. Some time or another, someone has uttered these words to us: “Prove it.” We make a statement. Someone challenges us.
I have heard it said that when attorneys interview the eyewitnesses to a crime or an accident, they become suspicious if their accounts are all the same. Attorneys realize that everyone sees things differently, and when eyewitness accounts are identical, they are often fabricated. If this is true, attorneys would love the eyewitness accounts of that first Easter morning that we read in the Gospels. No two are alike.
St. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” came to the tomb as day was dawning. St. Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, came when the sun had risen. St. Luke does not name the women and records that they went at daybreak. St. John tells us that Mary Magdalene came alone while it was still dark.
St. Matthew and St. Mark tell us that the women were greeted by a man (St. Matthew calls him an angel), but St. Luke tells us that it was two men. St. John makes no mention of any such appearance.
It gets even more confusing. St. Matthew and St. Mark tell us that Mary Magdalen is to tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. St. Luke tells us that Jesus met two disciples as they were returning home to Emmaus. Then he appears to the disciples in Jerusalem. St. John also records that Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem.
The most confusing detail of all comes to us from the Gospel of St. Mark. In the original ending to his Gospel, he tells us that the women were so afraid that they ran away and told no one about what they had seen and heard. Imagine where we would be if they had been able to keep it a secret.
One would think that an event of such importance would be recorded in the Gospels in a consistent story line. That’s just the point. There is no consistency in the story for one very good reason. The event cannot be proven. There were no witnesses. No one can say when it happened and how. Perhaps most damning of all the evidence is the fact that the empty tomb was found by women who were not able to give testimony in a court of law. Only men could be witnesses! Please understand. This is not my opinion; it is simply an historical fact.
We cannot prove that Jesus rose from the dead. One has to accept the fact by faith. Actually, God doesn’t want witnesses. God wants believers!
Just as the Jewish authorities of St. Matthew’s Gospel cooked up a plot with the Roman soldiers to discredit the story, so too today there are those who will stop at nothing to question the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. No amount of reason or logic will convince the unbeliever. That’s exactly the way God planned it. One simply has to accept this on faith.
The amazing thing about the story does not lie in proof or the lack thereof. What is truly amazing is that a small band of disciples, men and women who had walked with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, were able to convince thousands that they were telling the truth. Christianity has grown from a small band of bungling associates to a worldwide religion. Because it is administered by men, it is flawed. Scandals have been part of Christianity since the very beginning. Yet nothing has been able to stop people from believing that Jesus rose from the dead.
For the next fifty days, the Church will once again celebrate the Easter Season. Every Sunday of the year, Christians will gather in their churches and proclaim their faith in Jesus as the Risen Lord. Men and women will dedicate their lives to serving others in the name of the Risen Lord Jesus. Nothing in the past has been able to stop people from believing. Nothing in the future will persuade us otherwise.
Jesus has conquered death. He is risen as he said. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator