By Fr Nicholas Okafor
PART of the mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection is that he appeared to his disciples not as a spirit but in bodily form.
In John 20:14-18 we read that when Mary Magdalene first encountered the risen Jesus, she did not recognise the figure standing before her until Jesus spoke to her. In Luke 24:13-35, the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus did not recognise the voice of the person reminding them what the Prophets said about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
They only came to realise who this voice was during the breaking of the bread. In his resurrected body, Jesus was no longer bound or limited by space and time; he appeared to the disciples in spite of the locked doors. And yet, the risen Jesus still bore the wounds of crucifixion on his glorified body.
This could be a constant reminder of the love Jesus lavished upon us. By his wounds we are healed.
For the fact that the disciples could still recognise the marks of the Crucifixion on the body of Jesus is an example that the resurrection of Jesus is an historical event – an event that happened at a particular point in time and space in the history of the Palestine Jews.
But at the same time, the appearance of Jesus through closed doors showcases that his resurrection is more than an historical event.
It is a spiritual act which no human words and imagination is yet to unravel its complete meaning. It is one of those things too deep for human understanding (Romans 8:26).
What the four gospels and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 15:3-8 are trying to do in their explanations of what resurrection means is to make “an effort even though in stammering fashion to turn into words an event which ordinary language does not seem to offer sufficient possibilities of expression” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Journey Towards Easter, 110).
Because the resurrection of Jesus is one of those things that elude human understanding we cannot blame Thomas for having doubt on its reality. The expression of doubt by Thomas is not completely an unwelcomed idea.
For the fact that there were people in Jesus’ time, and even from among his apostles, who are expressing doubt on Jesus’ resurrection, tells us that there was never a time when the understanding of the meaning of resurrection was not a problem.
Thomas’ doubt, and his ability to showcase it, is an eye-opener to Christians that there could be a time in our spiritual journey when we are going to face doubt (crisis of faith) in some of the things we believe in. Thomas Merton says, “The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith.”
Thomas’ doubt also tells us that when we experience doubts we should not stop there; we should proceed to the next level of allowing our doubts to help us to grow in faith just as he through his own doubt came to the profession of one of the powerful expressions in the scriptures that explains the divine nature of Jesus Christ – “My Lord and my God”.
Jesus’ response, “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe,” is an indication that faith is beyond what the senses can grasp.
It tells us that seeing sometimes does not imply believing and believing sometimes does not imply seeing.
This statement of Jesus is a challenge to empiricists and agnostics. It also accentuates that faith is trust, not certainty – it is trust on an absolute truth that exists independent of our human epistemic knowledge.
For the fact that we have faith does not mean that we have all the answers to any question that comes on the way of our Christian journey: we do not need to know all the answers before we believe.
The resurrection of Jesus is the epicentre and hallmark of our Christian faith.
It is a reassurance that our Christian life does not end in the darkness of the tomb but transcends the tomb.
It means that there could be darkness in the tunnel, but at the end there is always light. The resurrection of Jesus is our hope in the midst of hopelessness.
Fr Nicholas Okafor is an associate pastor of Surfers Paradise parish.