Updated: May 14, 2019
As propagandists, the early disciples weren’t up to much. They made outlandish claims, gave contradictory accounts, and showed themselves up as bunglers and losers. But how were they as teachers?
Well, in relating the Resurrection, the disciples were not interested in showing how clever they had been through it all, or how they had asked searching questions and offered penetrating analysis. Nor did they lead others in a programme towards self-improvement. Instead, they seemed to be interested in only two things: sharing their experience, and showing why Jesus had risen from the dead, and the two were linked in their own life story.
What they saw and heard
The disciples told of their own confusion, fear, disbelief, and lack of immediate action. They struggled to put into words what they had seen and heard: the Jesus who was the same, yet different; the facility he had to appear and disappear at will, from Jerusalem to the Sea of Tiberias; his ability to walk through closed doors, but still somehow managing to sit down and eat with them.
Above all, they talked of how apparent disaster on the cross, and their timidity, all too evident in Jesus’ hour of need, was transformed by the Resurrection.
Despite their lack of clarity in describing the risen Christ, there was one thing they were very clear on: Jesus had risen from the dead to bring about the forgiveness of sins; to reconcile humanity with God; to bring peace and eternal life. This, they had experienced firsthand, and they offered this to all they met.
Wherever the Church went in those early days, and whether to Jew or Gentile, the message was the same: our hopes and dreams are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, we are saved, and our lives can have meaning and purpose in mutual love and upbuilding. That message has not changed in two thousand years.
Wherever we are and whatever our beliefs, we humans need purpose, a future, and to be loved and to give love: faith, hope and charity. However, while we might all share those common goals, today, more than ever, we differ on how to achieve them.
From varying philosophies and spiritualities to self-help books and life coaches, there is no shortage of twenty-first century options. Christianity with its parables and commandments may give some value for money, but it is seen often as only one way among others, and what we often claim as Christian ideals can easily enough be packaged as courtesy and common sense. Is there more?
What of our personal relationships?
We hear a lot these days about rights and respect, about the needs of minorities and individuals. All of this is as it should be, but is there something more?
The gospels tell us that the one who was judged has become the judge. The one who was counted as nothing and as a slave has become the gold standard for human endeavour, and the way to liberation. The one who was outcast has shown us how to include others and build community. It is not just that I must respect others or refrain from stereotyping.
I am called to see the transforming power of Christ in the poor – and the poor are called to see Christ in themselves and others! The individual is not just to be respected but challenged as to how selflessness can help build community. Having problems does not excuse me from seeing the need in others, or from contributing to the common good.
My desire for healing does not mean that I can heal myself. Admitting my brokenness might be a start, and there may be practical steps I can take, but I need something more if I am to thrive and not just ‘get by’. As a Christian, I am fully cognizant of the power that comes from the glorified Lord that will in turn glorify me. I am not just ‘getting there’: I know where ‘there’ is.
Does the universe point to God?
I am amazed at the immensity of space, at least one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. The reality of this overwhelms me, and my childhood dreams of clambering aboard some version of the Starship Enterprise and warping off to strange new worlds are just that – childish imaginings. It isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Does this fill me with a sense of inadequacy or the ‘irrelevance’ of my ‘happenstance existence?’ Or is there something in the very nature of creation that gives sign of the God who is beyond my comprehension and calls me to look at the bigger picture?
Experience, the way to Resurrection
Today, authenticity is prized almost above all other virtues or moral concerns. The first disciples were, if nothing else, authentic. They were honest to the point of being a publicist’s nightmare. They did not claim that they were superheroes – quite the opposite. Nor did they claim that there was something in the human psyche or make up that was just itching to ‘go transcendental’, and just had to be let out.
Their experience of death and Resurrection was real: their limited lives changed by grace a testimony not to the ‘endurance of the human spirit’ but to the mercy of God.
And that is where Catholic education comes in. When I attended Catholic schools in the 1960s and 70s, there was no denial of evolution, nor was there any lack of science subjects. We were not banned from reading challenging literature, nor from asking awkward questions. But faith was brought into every aspect; not in opposition to knowledge but, rather, as a context and framework for how to assimilate and make sense of the data we were all taking in.
I am not looking back with rose tinted spectacles: there were plenty of mistakes made, and we were all too aware of human failings, and the shortcomings of a system which often favoured the gifted. Again, our faith taught us that we had to first ask for forgiveness and offer it freely to others; admit our weakness and seek the mercy of God.
If we have lost sight of this perspective, we need to refocus. Catholic education is about the how and why of the Resurrection in our lives; how we make sense of life because of the death and Resurrection of Christ, not despite it.