Here’s the secret
The homily today discusses the importance of the resurrection and the temptation we can have to trust in ourselves or other humans and not in God. Going Behind the Word examines why the historical resurrection of Jesus, and not simply a symbolic one, is essential and necessary for Christianity to be real.
Going Behind the Word
Jesus is truly raised from the dead
One of the most challenging (and I would argue) dangerous views of the study of the bible was the tendency to reduce every miracle to a merely symbolic representation. That is to say, miraculous events never occurred. Rather, their description in the bible was merely the description not of a miracle that did not happen, but was rather a symbolic description.
This is dangerous, I would argue, because if Jesus did not really do miraculous things, then it is not that far a leap to suggest Jesus was only human, and not fully human and fully divine. And if Jesus is not fully human and fully divine, but really rather much more human than divine, then the faith we profess, as Saint Paul asserts, is really nothing.
When we diminish or eliminate the miraculous in the bible, then the real danger was what Saint Paul faced in the second reading today. If Jesus did not heal the blind, the sick, the lame, the deaf, the possessed, then he cannot really heal me of anything either. And if Jesus did not really multiply loaves, then he is probably not really present in the Eucharist either. Just a symbol.
But Paul indicates an even more difficult danger. If Jesus was not historically raised from the dead, if this is not an historical event, then our faith is in vain. The very heart of our faith is worthless, and, much worse, we are still in our sins. Yikes!
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain
It cannot be said anymore more bluntly than that. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain. And does not this seem to be really important? Is it not the case that God is God, not simply a version of humans a little bit better, but rather a God that simply cannot be understood for God is so far beyond anything we could even begin to understand?
For the truth is, if God is not eternal, divine, infinite, total and unconditional love, dependent upon nothing else, why is it that anyone would seek to change their life and follow Him? Why would I trust my life to something only slightly better than me? Simply put, no one would.
So what we must preach is that Jesus is truly raised from the dead. For because Jesus is risen from the dead, then indeed we are saved from our sins. I am not still in my sins, and neither are you. We can be forgiven, and more importantly we can be saved.
And if Jesus is really and truly risen, then indeed I enjoy a dignity beyond anything I can imagine. I am made in the image and likeness of God. I can have an eternal relationship with God in heaven. And so can you.
It could have been made up — or it could be simply a myth
The Apostles Are Not Imposters
It simply is not logical that if the resurrection did not historically occur the apostles simply made it up. Why? Because if the resurrection was not an actual, historical event, how likely is it that the apostles would have given their lives for a lie? There was not one apostle (a disciple who also witnessed the resurrected Christ) who dissented from the view that Jesus was actually risen from the dead.
Jesus really died
Moreover, it is not the case that Jesus only appeared to die. And if Jesus did not really die, then the apostles would have to have been deceived. But if the apostles were deceived, how can we account for all of the others who witnessed Jesus actually die? And how is it that the Romans would have gotten this one crucifixion so wrong when they were such masters of crucifixion, and had perfected its use?
The gospels have too much depth and detail
If it is not the case Jesus is truly raised from the dead, then perhaps it is because a myth was created. The problem with this theory is that the death of each apostle happened quickly. Myths take time to develop. But the apostles were martyred (except for John) in the first century. To create a myth that was so widely accepted in such a short time is highly unlikely.
Even more interesting is the fact the gospels are psychologically deep, filled with verifiable details, similar yet not exact, and do not paint the apostles and the disciples in a universally good light. If the myth were created to give the apostles a great reputation, why is it they would have been portrayed in a way that made them look bad?
Why do we not treat other history this way?
No one doubts that Sir Isaac Newton actually existed, or Saint Benedict, or Julius Caesar. Or Aristotle. Or Plato. Or Socrates. Yet the same process and discipline of history which determines they existed is not applied to the gospels, Jesus or the resurrection?
Of course there are elements of the resurrection that require faith. This event is one that challenges us to live life in a completely different way if we believe Jesus is risen. It cannot be the case that we can live the same old way. This event verifies everything God promises us. This event means that we have a hope held out that is really just amazing.
Without this hope, we are still in our sins. But with this hope, indeed, everything is different. And this hope is based on an event while miraculous, passes the test as a reasonable belief. Jesus is risen! He is truly risen!