Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Resurrection and Vindication of Jesus and His Mission

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B, Luke 24:35-49, April 22, 2012

FROM HINDSIGHT, IT became clear how the death of Ninoy Aquino galvanized the Filipinos into a formidable opposition to the Marcos dictatorship; it served as a rallying point for the hitherto disparate or disorganized opponents of the regime to unify them into a mammoth opposition that finally dislodged the Marcoses. But as the events of the 1980s were still unfolding, his death was seen differently. Among others, it was considered as a signal that the era of traditional politics which revolved around the charisma of politicians was about to end. Or, he was viewed as simply one more victim of the repressive martial law regime. His death, however, acquired a new meaning when seen from the perspective of the events after his assassination and from the impact it made in Philippine history. Today, most tend to regard him as martyr of Filipino freedom.

This observation gives us an inkling of the meaning of Jesus’ fate, and its place in God’s plan of salvation.

What happened to Jesus must be seen in the context of God’s plan to save us. Divorced from the resurrection event, his fate, as most Jews would have perceived it, resulted from his claims and activities which raised the question of the origin of his authority. Examples of such claims and activities were his interpretation of the law contrary to traditional interpretation (Matt 5:21-48), his assumption of divine prerogative (Mark 2:1-11), his teaching (Mark 1:22.27) and his preaching (Mark 1:15). In terms of Old Testament criteria as read by the Jews, he was a false prophet (Deut 18:20-22), a rebellious son (Deut 21:18-21), and a beguiler who led people astray (Deut 17:1-13). Eventually, the religious leaders saw him as a threat to the nation, because of what he taught to the people and his action that threatened the Temple (John 11:45-53). Of course, these accusations would not make sense in a Roman Court, and so the Jewish authorities had to present him as a messianic pretender, a political insurgent who claimed to be a king of the Jews. And when he was put to death, the Jewish authorities thought that it was the end of him.

But he rose from the dead. Hence, the resurrection vindicated the person and mission of Jesus. Condemned as a false prophet, a rebellion son, a beguiler, a messianic pretender, Jesus was confirmed God’s faithful son who obeyed the Father’s will. From hindsight, his fate came to be understood as similar to the fate of all God’s messengers. In their faithfulness to the mission given them, they encountered opposition, even violent, from ungodly men, secular powers, or people of stony heart who did not want to listen. “Though you refused to listen or pay heed, the Lord has sent you without fail all his servants the prophets with this message: Turn back, each of you, from your evil way and from your evil deeds; then you shall remain in the land which the Lord gave you and your fathers, from of old and forever”(Jer 25:4-5). One such messenger was Jeremiah whom the Lord called to prophesy against Israel in the hope that they would turn back from their evil ways (Jer 36:2-3). For this King Jehoiakim many times attempted to kill him. According to tradition, he was in the end murdered in Egypt by his fellow countrymen.

Jesus was therefore God’s faithful servant, and his resurrection was a vindication of his faithfulness, and proves that the human judgment on him—a blasphemer, a wayward son, a heretic and false prophet and a messianic pretender—was wrong. The Jews were wrong in their interpretation of the Scriptures. “You put to death the Author of life. But God raised him from the dead” (Acts 3:15, 1st Reading). The resurrection was God’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah. Therefore, they misread what was written concerning God’s servant. That is why, in today’s Gospel (Luke 24:36-48), Jesus reminded his disciples: “Recall those words I spoke to you when I was still with you: everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms had to be fulfilled”(Luke 24:44). Of course, one cannot find a specific reference to the suffering Messiah in each of these groups of writings. But then, to look for it is to miss the point of Luke. For according to the evangelist, the whole of Hebrew Scriptures—Law, Prophets, Writings—found fulfillment in Christ. Hence, it had to be reread in the light of the resurrection. It is not so much about understanding Jesus from the point of view of the Old Testament as about understanding it in the light of what happened to Jesus.

Read in the light of what happened after his death, Jesus, in other words, was not what human judgment thought of him, but the Messiah to which the Scriptures testified. He was approved and vindicated by God.

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