Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Man Who Wouldn't Stay Dead

There's a reason for Catholic churches having a statue of a corpse displayed prominently.

The death of Jesus is very important for the Catholic Church. So is what happened three days later - and I'll get back to that.

First, a little background.

"Tell the Israelites: I AM Sent Me to You' "

About three and a half or four millennia back,1 someone named Abram moved out of Ur, changed his name to Abraham, and settled near the east end of the Mediterranean Sea.

Time passed. Descendants of Abraham moved to Egypt, ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom gave way to the Middle Kingdom, empires rose and fell, and eventually someone named Moses had a face-to-burning-bush talk with God:
" 'But,' said Moses to God, 'when I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," if they ask me, "What is his name?" what am I to tell them?'

"6 God replied, 'I am who am.' Then he added, 'This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.'"
(Exodus 3:13-14)
Egypt's ruler learned - the hard way - that it's not prudent to ignore what God says, and descendants of Abraham moved back to the east end of the Mediterranean.

"...And You have Seen Abraham?"

About a dozen centuries later, Jesus compared some descendants of Abraham to their ancestor. Unfavorably:
"So the Jews said to him, 'You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?' 23

"24 Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.' "
(John 8:57-58)
Jesus had said, without any possibility of misunderstanding, "I am God."

Disorderly Conduct

Jesus made another remarkable claim, after engaging in disorderly conduct:
"10 11 Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem....

"...At this the Jews answered and said to him, 'What sign can you show us for doing this?'

"Jesus answered and said to them, 15 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.'

"The Jews said, 'This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?'

"But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

"Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken,"
(John 2:13-22)

Big Talk, Breach of the Peace, Death

Jesus made an extravagant claim:
"24 Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.' "
(John 8:58)
My Lord also committed a breach of the peace in the temple, and followed that up by saying:
"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
(John 2:19)
Then he was tortured to death and buried.

That's where it gets interesting.

Lunatics Don't Stop Being Dead

Any crazy person might claim to be God. Or, these days, Napoleon. Or Steve Jobs.

Jesus had been about as blunt as a person could be, explaining how it was that He had seen Abraham:
"24 Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.' "
(John 8:58)
Small wonder that Jesus was executed shortly after that.

Make no mistake: Jesus died. The crucifixion of Jesus was handled by Roman soldiers. They were good at their jobs, and knew how to make sure that someone was thoroughly, sincerely, and permanently dead.

After being pried off the Cross, Jesus was buried. In a borrowed tomb, and that's another topic.

Up to that point, Jesus might have been any other lunatic, acting crazy because He really thought He was God.

His torture and execution should have been an end to the claim that "...before Abraham came to be, I AM."

Then, three days later, Jesus stopped being dead.

Jesus Stopped Being Dead

Jesus was raised from the dead, and is alive.

Really, physically, eat-a-baked-fish, put-your-hand-in-my-side, alive.2 The Catholic Church thinks this is very important. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 638-655, for starters) So do I.

Anybody dying to save me would make an impression. When the Second Person of the Trinity volunteers: That's not something I'll forget.

Jesus the Crucified

Toward the end of Matthew, we're told that Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" went to the tomb where a sincerely dead Jesus had been buried. There was an incident involving an angel, and that's where I'll pick up Matthew's account:
"Then the angel said to the women in reply, 'Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.

"4 He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

"Then go quickly and tell his disciples, "He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him." Behold, I have told you.'

"Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce 5 this to his disciples.

"6 And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.

"Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.' "
(Matthew 28:5-10)
The two Marys passed my Lord's message along. Here's how that meeting went:
"8 The eleven9 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.

"10 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.

"11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, 'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

"Go, therefore,12 and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

"teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.13 And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.' "
(Matthew 28:16-20)
That was two millennia back, the orders haven't changed, and I've posted about that before. (August 25, 2011)

Related posts:
1 Abram/Abraham may have moved out of Ur about 4,000 years ago. Or as recently as 3,500 years back. Considering how often languages and calendar systems have changed over the last 35 centuries, I don't regard "early part of the second millennium B.C." as an unreasonable sort of estimate. Not considering the condition that detailed records of, say, the Sumerians are in today.
"...With the story of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (⇒ Genesis 11:27-⇒ 50:26), the character of the narrative changes. While we do not view the account of the patriarchs as history in the strict sense, nevertheless certain of the matters recounted from the time of Abraham onward can be placed in the actual historical and social framework of the Near East in the early part of the second millennium B.C. (2000-1500), and documented by non-biblical sources...." (Preface to the New American Bible)
(from Footnote 9 (July 5, 2011))

2 The "baked fish" thing is from Luke 24:41-43. Thomas, understandably, had trouble believing that Jesus was really alive. My Lord helped Thomas work that out:
"Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, 'Peace be with you.'

"Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.' "
(John 20:26-27)

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