Monday, March 28, 2016

The other miracle

In today's gospel we read St. Matthew's account of Mary and the other woman's encounter with Jesus. It is easy for us to focus on the few select sightings. But what about the rest.

While most congregations heard the story of the women finding the empty tomb yesterday. If mass is celebrated on Easter Sunday in the evening, a different gospel is assigned, the disciples on the road to Emmaus from chapter 24 of St. Luke.

We tend to think of Easter as a happy time, and while it should be for us, for most of Jesus's disciples it was anything but happy.  The two disciples (not apostles) on the road are described by Jesus as looking (skuthropos) sad, sullen, mournful.   And this would have been the face of almost all of those who had gotten their hopes up, believing that Jesus was the Messiah. In the eyes of most of the world including most of his disciples Jesus's mission was an abject failure. Not only had he died without setting the people of Israel free, he had died the shameful death reserved for foreigners and insurrectionists.

When we think of Easter and miracles we think of the resurrection, and rightly so. But there was another miracle.  While vast crowds saw the crucifixion only a very few saw the resurrected Jesus. On top of that today's reading tells us that the chief priests and the elders paid the guards to say that the disciples had come and stolen the body in the middle of the night, a much more credible story.
Which was easier for people to believe a stolen body or a resurrection?

And yet, the Christian faith survived and grew. That is a miracle. There is no human explanation for the spread of Christianity given how it started out.  Were it a merely human endeavor, it would have died right then. The Church grew over the centuries into a truly Catholic body, with believers all over the world.  While the human beings who make up the Church have at times defiled it by their actions, there is no greater force for good in the world.

It is good for us to remember how close to extinction Christianity appeared after the crucifixion. It reminds us that the Church is not our work. It was, is, and always will be the work of God.