In the gospel, we read how slow the disciples of our Lord were in coming to believe in His resurrection, in spite of the fact that they had been walking with Him for three years, listening to Him and seeing Him performing so many miracles. When Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He was alive, they did not believe her. So, too, the two disciples who were on the way road to Emmaus and saw the Lord. They “went back and told the others, who did not believe them either.” Finally, we read that the Lord appeared to the Eleven and “reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.”
Why were the disciples reluctant to believe in the resurrection of their master when the Lord had been forewarning them and hinting to them about His passion and resurrection? They were overcome with grief. When we are overwhelmed with our loss in life, especially our loved ones, we are not able to go beyond our grief. Having been deprived of our loved ones, we do not want to go through the whole process of grieving again. Isn’t it true that there are some dog lovers who, when their pets die, do not want to have another dog again because they do not want to go through the long bereavement process again? Also true for those of us who have suffered infidelity and abuses in relationships. We dare not start another relationship for fear of being betrayed again.
Now if the disciples who had walked with the Lord for the last three years themselves were incredulous and cynical in believing the good news of the resurrection of our Lord, what can we expect from those who had no personal knowledge of Him? Surely, they would have been even more skeptical and disbelieving! Why? Firstly, it went against their doctrine regarding the resurrection of the dead, especially those who belonged to the Sadducees section of the Sanhedrin. Even for the Pharisees, their faith in the resurrection was only at the end of time. Secondly, they were responsible for executing Jesus, calling Him a fraud, a religious deviant and a political rebel. How could the apostles now proclaim that the man was healed in the power of His name? They would lose credibility and most of all, the ramifications would be consequential. They would lose their status quo and their religious institutions would be under threat. They had simply too much to lose. Hence, they had to insist that they were right in ordering Jesus to be put to death. He was a criminal, a blasphemer and a false Messiah! Surely such a man could not have been raised by God from the dead!
However, once they saw the Lord, their whole perspective changed. Encountering the Risen Lord results in a sense of mission. Jesus told the Eleven, “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.” And that was what they did. In the first reading, when the Sanhedrin “called them in and gave them a warning on no account to make statements or to teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John retorted, ‘You must judge whether in God’s eyes it is right to listen to you and not to God. We cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.” Truly, if we had seen and heard something so wonderful as this, we too would not be able to stop proclaiming. The lack of the zeal to evangelize and talk about Jesus belies our claims that Jesus is Lord and our Saviour. How can we compromise our faith in Jesus as the Lord and unique Savior of the world if we had truly encountered Him as the Risen Lord!
But perhaps, we have not! Indeed, how many of us can really say we have seen the Lord? In truth, an encounter with the Risen Lord was something confined to the apostolic witnesses. As St Paul wrote, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Cor 15:3-8) Hence, not everyone saw the Risen Lord. This is because He could only be seen by those who had faith.
For us all, just like the Sanhedrin, can we excuse ourselves for not believing since we had no direct encounter with the Risen Lord? The truth is that for us, the way we encounter the Risen Lord is by believing in the testimonies of those who had seen Him. The end of today’s gospel is a reminder that Jesus reproached His disciples for refusing “to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” This was the case of St Thomas who refused to believe the testimony of the rest of the apostles that they had seen the Lord. So the obstinacy of not believing in the testimonies of those who had seen the Lord leads to a greater obstinacy of not believing in the resurrection of our Lord.
How, then, do we surrender in belief to the testimonies of those who had seen the Lord? Firstly, through their transformed life. Even though the Sanhedrin did not have any personal contact with our Lord, yet they could see for themselves the effects of those who were His disciples. In the first reading, St Luke noted, “The rulers, elders and scribes were astonished at the assurance shown by Peter and John, considering they were uneducated laymen; and they recognised them as associates of Jesus.” The apostles were fishermen and they were not rabbis but they spoke with authority, conviction and passion, without fear of being physically punished or fear of the religious authority. What changed them was that they were associates of Jesus and they had encountered the Risen Lord. Otherwise, how do we explain the sudden reversal of their cowardice in the face of their master’s arrest and now standing before them proclaiming His resurrection?
Secondly, they could see the healing miracle before them. “When they saw the man, who had been cured standing by their side, they could find no answer.” There was no way to dispute that the man was not healed. They themselves were aware of this reality. “It is obvious to everybody in Jerusalem that a miracle has been worked through them in public, and we cannot deny it. But to stop the whole thing spreading any further among the people, let us caution them never to speak to anyone in this name again.” They were not interested in discussing how the man could have been healed by Jesus whom they condemned to death. Their minds were already made up. They were stubborn. They were not ready to objectively study the phenomenon they had witnessed and the basis of the claims of the apostles. Instead, they sought to silence the truth of the matter. Since it would have been political suicide to imprison the men because the crowd had seen the miracle, they them warned not to speak about the name of Jesus. “The court repeated the warnings and then released them; they could not think of any way to punish them, since all the people were giving glory to God for what had happened.”
We who have not seen the Lord personally, certainly would have heard of the many beautiful testimonies when people encountered the Risen Lord in prayer, worship or in miracles, especially of healings. Indeed, there are many testimonies of radically changed lives of those who have encountered the love and mercy of God. Many who were skeptical of God and His gifts now believe in Him. From a worldly life, many live as true disciples of our Lord, serving Him in Church and witnessing His love to their friends. Some of us have experienced the power of God in our own lives, when we received the gift of tongues, the gift of prophecy, the gift of healing, etc. Many of us can feel His presence and His divine assistance in our daily life, guiding us to make right decisions and giving us the courage to continue to do the right thing in spite of the many oppositions we meet each day. When we feel discouraged and helpless, the Lord comes into our lives, sending us His messengers and angels to comfort us, strengthen us and give us the strength to continue. Indeed, these are the means by which we too encounter the Risen Lord today. Let us not be obstinate anymore!
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved. The contents of this page may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission from the Archbishop’s Office. This includes extracts, quotations, and summaries.
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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