Sometimes the order of the Gospels read at the Sunday Eucharist challenges the imagination of the reader, especially during the Easter Season currently being celebrated in Catholic Christian dioceses including the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Following the first two Sundays of Easter, the faithful take pause and return to the miracles of that first Easter Sunday.
Every year on the Second Sunday of Easter, the Scripture Cycle includes the Gospel of doubting Thomas, which appears only in the writing of John (John 20:19-31). John’s stories are common throughout Holy Week and the Easter Season each year, but the other evangelists are interspersed, as well. In Year A, the year of Matthew, on the Third Sunday of Easter, we hear from Luke, who also tells a story that is not detailed anywhere else in the Gospels.
The Emmaus Story is the foundation of the four parts of the liturgy. (Luke 24:13-35) It took place on Easter Sunday and is another telling of Jesus’ appearances to people who knew him but did not recognize him immediately after the Resurrection. When the two disciples involved, hearts burning within them, ran the eight miles back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles, they were greeted with skepticism and disbelief.
Almost as fast as the rock was rolled away, the real doubters were spreading their skeptical challenges. One of the first doubts raised was that Jesus did not die on the cross. Others said that he did die, and the apostles stole his body to make it look like he had fulfilled the prophets. There were even some who suggested the disciples made up the whole Resurrection story. And then, there were those witnesses themselves, who were either hallucinating or unreliable. Of course, this led some skeptics to challenge the very image of Jesus: he was just a man, not God, if he really lived at all.
Every one of these points of view can be thoroughly disproven with the common knowledge we already have from the Gospels and historical fact. Jesus DID die on the cross. If he had not, his survival would have been some sort of medical miracle, considering the torture inflicted on him including being stabbed in the side after being nailed to a crossbeam in a fashion that was meant to cause certain death. Had he not died, the Roman guards would have faced a possible death penalty for failing to break his legs or confirm his death before he was taken down.
Some of those supposedly guarding the tomb, who could have been Romans or Pharisees, reported to the high priest Caiaphas what they had seen, and no one really knows what that was since they may have slept through the whole thing. Whatever tale they told, the elders didn’t like, and so they paid the guards to tell everyone that his disciples had stolen the body. (Matthew 28:11-15) The apostles were scared to death and hiding, and were not capable of carrying out such a plot. Further, the apostles did not believe in the Resurrection when they heard about if from others, such as the men from Emmaus and the women at the tomb. It was not until Jesus himself appeared to any of these witnesses, that they came to realize his presence.
With the Second Sunday of Easter Gospel, Thomas stands out because he asks to see the same proof that the other apostles have already witnessed. When Jesus returned, he immediately instructed the doubting disciple to put his finger in the wounds of his body. Then he proclaimed the righteousness of those who believed even without proof (something called ‘faith.’)
Most biblical scholars believe more than 500 people witnessed Jesus after his Resurrection. Skeptics have said they were hallucinating. If that was the case, it would no longer be considered a hallucination. 500 witnesses to the same thing at different times cannot be hallucinating. In addition, the first witnesses were Mary Magdalene and the other women. In bible times, it would not have been politically correct to have listed women as the prime witnesses to such an important event.
Was Jesus real? Ignoring for a moment the prophecies regarding Jesus by Moses, Isaiah, David, and several of the prophets, Jesus is the central character of the New Testament, and is mentioned along with his mother in the Qur’an. In addition, more than eighty documents were created in the first century alone about Jesus. That’s a pretty hefty load in a time when few could read and even less could write…all in reference to a mythological character.
Perhaps the greatest witness to the Resurrected Jesus was St Paul. The apostle to the Gentiles was a Roman-bred Jew, whose sole profession seems to be the extermination of Christians, even though he was greatly educated and talented. Paul’s conversion must have been a terrifying experience for him as he encountered the very Jesus whose followers he had been persecuting. Paul’s vision of Jesus led him to the foundation of the Christian faith as we’ve known it ever since.
In the end, intelligence and faith prevailed. Intelligence, because simple reason would lead one to conclude that Jesus was a real person, even though some of his contemporaries thought he was a nut job. The Gospels list numerous stories of his prayer, his teaching, and all those miracles we’ve heard about. Surely, such a man would attract great attention in death or in life. Unfortunately, we also know that there is usually a price to pay for fame, and Jesus paid the ultimate, yet no one to this day has produced a body. For the faithful, it’s only because, as he waits with the Father for us, he has no further need of it.
It is the Easter Season and I believe.