Monday in the Octave of Easter
(Acts 2:14.22-33; Matthew 28:8-15)
The idea of resurrection from the dead staggers the mind so much that suggesting it invites skepticism. In the readings today we see bases of two attempts to discredit Jesus’ resurrection. The gospel mentions a refutation from apostolic times. Apparently some Jews claimed that Jesus did not rise from the dead but that his disciples stole his body. The evangelist’s picturing corrupt Jewish leaders as bribing the Roman soldiers corresponds to their seeking false witnesses at Jesus’ trial.
More pertinent today is a doubt about the resurrection that the Acts of the Apostles suggests. In the first reading Peter tries to show his Jewish listeners that Jesus’ resurrection is foretold in Scripture. Propelled by this account, modern skeptics have conjectured that the passion, death and resurrection narratives were invented by early Christians with the Old Testament in hand. According to these theorists, the apostles gleaned tidbits from the Jewish Scriptures, injected them into the story of Jesus’ ordeal, and then claimed that the crucified Jesus also rose from the dead. This scenario may be possible, but it is hardly likely. We might ask why the apostles did not choose more relevant information than casting lots for Jesus’ garments or offering Jesus wine mixed with gall. Catholic scholar Fr. Raymond Brown has written it is far more likely that early Christians, after witnessing Jesus’ death and resurrection, told of it with reference to its elements that correspond to Scripture.
Skeptics can and will always raise doubts about Jesus’ resurrection. It remains a singular event in history (unless we count the Assumption of Mary for which there appears to be far less testimony). We accept it in faith for at least three reasons. First, the apostles, who died for preaching the resurrection, make a credible witness. Second, the resurrection satisfies the longing of the human heart, which God has created, for immortality. And third, we have experienced the effects of the resurrection in the Spirit’s filling our hearts with God’s love.