The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Believers of Christ don’t need ‘proof’ to see

Published: April 19, 2018   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily April 15.

We have an expression, “Seeing is believing,” but actually that’s inaccurate. Seeing is “proof,” not belief. In most instances, believing is when we’re convinced of the truth of something we have experienced, but for which there is no empirical proof.

Two weeks ago we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, an event that no one actually saw occur. The women found an empty tomb and saw an angel who explained why the tomb was empty, but there was no proof.

This enabled Jesus’ adversaries to float an alternate explanation: that Jesus’ followers had removed the body in order to discredit them, claiming a resurrection that really hadn’t occurred, and that the women were hallucinating due to their intense grief when they supposedly saw the angel — or maybe they just made it up!

We are convinced of the truth of what we have experienced, just like those first believers.

Even Jesus’ followers were confused, despite having seen the empty tomb and heard what the women had to say. The Pharisees believed in an eventual resurrection of the dead “on the last day” and this was the branch of Judaism to which Jesus and most of his followers belonged, so some of his followers didn’t equate “rising on the third day” with the kind of resurrection they believed would occur “on the last day,” which was to be a physical, bodily resurrection.

Here was Jesus walking through closed doors and appearing suddenly out of nowhere and disappearing just as suddenly. This seemed like the behavior of a ghost returned after the third day, not the behavior of a flesh-and-blood resurrected human being, which is why in the post-resurrection appearance in today’s Gospel Jesus goes out of his way to prove that he is not a ghost.

He says, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, (see) that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have,” and then as further proof he ate food in front of them, “a piece of baked fish,” something a ghost could never do.

But it is important to note why Jesus goes to all this trouble to prove to his followers the truth of his bodily resurrection, namely: 1) that he really is the Messiah sent by God to fulfill everything written about him in the Scriptures, and specifically that “the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,” and 2) that his followers will now be sent to preach to all the nations forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name beginning from Jerusalem. They are now to be witnesses to the truth of what they have actually experienced.

When Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, we had for the first time in human history direct confirmation that bodily resurrection of the dead can indeed occur because it did in the case of Jesus. This gives us confidence that God’s promise to raise us up on the last day will be verified in us as well.

But since this is a matter of faith, non-believers continue to float alternate explanations, saying for instance 1) that belief in the afterlife is just a coping mechanism, a crutch for those who are too weak to face up to the brutal fact of our own eventual annihilation and 2) that the idea of punishment in hell is an effective — though empty — threat by means of which religious societies use fear to manipulate us into acceptable behavior.

Meaning that life after death is just a lie that people have invented for other — sometimes even worthwhile — reasons.

Jesus’ followers today seem even more confused than those in our Gospel, though our issues are different from theirs. Look at the obituaries in the paper and you will see that many people think the dead — all the dead — go automatically to heaven, regardless of how they lived their lives.

Is that confused or not? Often what is published is like a decree of canonization. When is the last time you saw mention of purgatory and praying for the dead in an obituary?

You and I are “believers” because, though lacking empirical proof, we are convinced of the truth of what we have experienced, just like those first believers.

And like them, we too are sent to give witness to all the nations of the forgiveness and salvation won for us by Jesus Christ.

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