The Way of Beauty 'They did not believe'

The Gospels record at least seven instances of disbelief in the Lord’s Resurrection.  The words were spoken not by outsiders but by the disciples themselves.  They didn’t believe the women who, on returning from the empty tomb, couldn’t wait to announce the good news to them. Idle chatter they called it. 

On finding only linen cloths at the tomb, Peter went home wondering at what happened to the body.  The two disciples at Emmaus had just about given up on the Lord’s promise and prediction.  They had hoped as well . . . . 
Then there was Thomas. You can almost hear his brashness, ‘I will not believe unless I can see the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side.’ Only then would he condescend to believe. 

Jesus doesn’t reprove Thomas but indulges him.  Once Thomas professes his belief, he becomes “the very one who most completely affirms the fullness of Christ’s nature found on the lips of anyone in the Gospel when he acclaims, “My Lord, and my God.”  His acclamation has become a common confession of faith concerning Christ. (Jerusalem Biblical Commentary, #178).

You can understand the disciples’ doubt or anyone’s doubt for that matter about the resurrection of a mere person.  Yet throughout his short ministry, Jesus foretold his Resurrection.  Didn’t they listen to him?  Weren’t they the ones who had protested that he was the Christ and expected Messiah?  For days, their vision remained clouded.

The Women at the Tomb; Mary Magdalene

Not so with the women. Seeing the empty tomb, initially they were afraid.  Then, assured by the angel, they believed.  There was no doubt about it. No need to rationalize, they hurried back to the Eleven with the joyful news.

It was a slightly different story with Mary Magdalene, a woman with much love to give.  Yet, there was nothing gullible about her, nothing naïve. Unlike Peter, she stayed behind at the tomb weeping, all the while trying to sort things out attempting to unravel the mystery of the missing body.  Distress aside, she was sleuthing around for any clue as to the Lord’s whereabouts.  Little did she suspect. 

To recapitulate the scene: “Why are you weeping,” ask the angels? She ignores their question but observes that “they” took away the body, whoever “they” are.  She doesn’t know where they laid him implying that she ought to know. 

Then Jesus, disguised as a gardener asks what she’s looking for.  This time, assuming that this gardener has some information, she blurts out “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I’ll take him away.”  She will look after the body? How? Such is the language of love that blurts out a protestation, both unrealistic and impossible.   Love knows no reason.  Or as Blaise Pascal would say in the seventeenth century, “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

It was only a few days before that Mary, in an act of profligate love, had poured out perfume on Jesus’ feet. ‘What a waste,’ sneered Judas.  But Jesus told Judas to his face that he needed human consolation before his passion and death.   

This encounter in the garden is lovely.  Jesus consoles Mary with her very own name.  His voice entirely transforms her.  The Risen Lord won’t allow her to cling to him because a new relationship now exists between them.  She hurriedly goes to the disciples to announce what the Lord has done for her.  Not unlike Mary of Nazareth.

Do we wonder that Magdalene’s name has been placed at the head of the named women in the Gospels?   She is the “apostle to the apostles” signaling her special place among them all. 

The Johannine encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene parallels that of Isaiah 43:1:“Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Contemplation as Event

If, in prayer, you can recreate this scene and sense that Jesus is calling you by name, it may be difficult to utter those harsh words, “I will not believe.”  It may not be possible to share the news of the Risen Christ in the way Magdalene did.  But sensitivity to others brings possibilities that are perhaps more creative.  For most of us, it means living our faith quietly, firmly, but without hesitation.  

God’s gracious presence at work in our lives gives them purpose and directs them with dynamism.  God’s face also shines on other persons, places, things, and events. You and I proclaim our belief to a world that often shouts the harsh words, ‘We will not believe.’ You and I are called to participate in the Trinity’s ongoing redemption in the world because we pray, “Lord, we believe; help our unbelief” (Mk 9:24).

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.