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The Resurrection as God’s Perfect Way of His Self-Revelation

Date Published: April 5, 2015

The resurrection account we read in the fourth Gospel is replete with signs. The first disciples who went to the tomb – Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and John – did not immediately see the risen Lord.

All they saw were signs – namely, an empty tomb, a rolled away stone, strips of linen cloth, and a piece of cloth used to cover Jesus’ face. It would only be later that Jesus would manifest himself to them (cf. Mk 16:6; Jn 20:14; etc.). One may ask: Why did Jesus tarry for a while before showing himself to them? Why did he keep his disciples waiting? He could have spared them all the fear, the confusion, the sadness, and so forth, if he immediately appeared to them.

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The risen Lord’s decision to wait for a while before manifesting himself to his disciples seems to perfectly fit God’s gradual and progressive self-revelation in the Sacred Scripture. Asking why Jesus did not immediately show himself after his resurrection is like asking why God did not immediately send His only begotten Son into the world. If God did, the Jews would not have had to wait for centuries for the coming of the Messiah.

God’s gradual revelation of himself and the progressive unfolding of his plan to save humanity are well-attested in the Bible. Thus we read: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things; through whom also He made the world” (Heb 1:1-2). Indeed, we believe that the entire Old Testament itself was propaedeutic in character – that is, it served to slowly prepare God’s people to the coming of Messiah. Saint Paul says, in this regard: “Before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal 3:23-25).

The risen Christ seems to be following the same pattern the Father used in revealing himself and his plan, which is a concrete demonstration of their unity in will. But the questions remain: Why? What is the reason behind such a divine economy? The answer is not hard to find. It is the same reason why the Father decided to resort to a gradual and progressive revelation of himself: to prepare us to a full or fuller understanding of his mystery. Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry, at times had to control himself and hold back since people were not yet ready for a full understanding of his message. Thus, on one occasion he said: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:12-13).

Indeed, God knows the perfect timing for everything. In the case of the appearance of the risen Christ to his disciples, we can say that he tarried for a while because he was waiting for the perfect timing. His disciples were not yet capable of understanding the truth about his resurrection. This is quite clear from the way they reacted to the things they saw at the tomb. They thought that Jesus’ body was stolen (cf. v.2) and failed to remember the Lord’s prediction about his rising back to life from the dead (cf. Mt 16:21; 17:22; Mk 8:31; Lk 9:22). Hence, through signs, Jesus wanted to guide and help his disciples find their way through a full understanding of what it meant to be raised back to life. That is what signs are for: they serve to point us toward right knowledge or possession of truth (cf. Saint Augustine, “De magistro” 1.2; 7.19; 9.25; 11.36; etc.).

This Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we are invited to go beyond the signs in order to understand the true meaning of such a mystery. We can ask ourselves questions like: What is the resurrection of Christ telling me? Why is it important to my life as a Christian believer? In what way can I participate in Christ’s resurrection? More importantly, how can I bear witness to the truth of the Lord’s resurrection?

Just as the risen Lord availed of signs to help his disciples understand his resurrection, we can likewise use signs to answer the questions we have mentioned above. Men today need to see signs that would lead them to faith in Jesus Christ, to feel his presence in their lives, to realize that he is indeed alive and continues to operate in the world today. Lastly, like Jesus, we also need to wait for the right timing. Some things simply need to be done gradually and carefully, requiring time and patience. (Fr. Czar Alvarez, OSA)

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