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4/20/2000
WORD OF FAITH
Don't be afraid of faith
REV. ROGER KARBAN


 

Ideally, we should proclaim all nine readings at the Easter Vigil. But because of space limits, I'll only comment on four.

Perhaps it's best never to encourage those who refuse to read the Christian Scriptures critically to sit down and read the four Gospel accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb in succession. They might lose their faith if they did.

Our sacred authors never intended to "prove" Jesus rose from the dead when they composed these narratives. On the contrary, presuming their readers already believed He rose from the dead and was now among them, their goal was to show the implications of His resurrection and presence. Each author demonstrates these implications in a different way. Because each works his theology into his narrative, we're presented with four different (often contradictory) accounts of this most important event.

Missing verse

That's why it's difficult to understand why those who choose our liturgical readings omitted the last verse of Mark's narrative (Mk 16:1-7). The omission is even more puzzling because that verse is the concluding verse of Mark's Gospel. (Even the bishops at the council of Trent, knowing verses 9 to 20 were added by an early scribe, believed verse 8 was Mark's last.)

The omitted verse: "They [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

Though Mark might presume that his readers know of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, he mentions none. By ending his Gospel on such a strange note, he seems to be telling his community to be always on their guard. Jesus is out there, somewhere. He can turn up in any situation or an person, at any time. Mark doesn't tie the risen Jesus down to any specific situation, person or time.

Paul works from a similar premise when he reminds the Christian community in Rome that because they're willing to die and rise with Jesus in Baptism, they've become completely one with Him (Rom 6: 3-11). "For if we have grown into union with Him through a death like His," Paul writes, "we shall also be united with Him in the resurrection." What Jesus did, we're doing.

Salvation

In a parallel way, Jews believed their annual Passover commemoration of Yahweh saving them from Egyptian slavery through the Exodus was a way to reflect on how Yahweh was saving them through history (Ex 14:15-15:1). Yahweh's salvation could never be restricted to just one event, to something which had taken place in 1,200 BCE.

Yet, from what we've discovered about the exile-ministry of Deutero-Isaiah, we know some Jews did exactly that. They so limited Yahweh's actions that they couldn't imagine Him saving them 700 years later. That's why the prophet constantly reminds his people that the Exodus is an ongoing event.

Deutero-Isaiah tells them (Is 55:1-11) Yahweh is continually saving them through the power and force of the word He gives. "For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down," Yahweh proclaims, "and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it."

All disciples of God expect to find God working daily in their lives. They learn about the important events of salvation history only because they long to understand how God is saving them in their own history. When the earliest Christians, for instance, heard stories of the Exodus, they reflected on Jesus' resurrection.

What are we reflecting on during this most sacred night? Whatever it is, we're probably also doing it with lots of trembling and bewilderment. And most likely, our fears will stop us from telling anyone about it.

(04-20-00)










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