Today’s gospel gives us Luke’s version of the risen Lord’s appearance to his apostles on Easter night. The apostles and some disciples were gathered in a locked room when Jesus stood in their midst and greeted them Peace. Thinking they were seeing a ghost, they were greatly terrified. To pacify them, Jesus showed them his hands and feet, and even asked for something to eat. Then, he reminded them about the things he had said while he was still with them and explained how everything written in the Scripture was fulfilled in him.
To show that he was not a ghost, Jesus gave four proofs of the resurrection. He made them see and touch his wounds; ate in front of them; and made them understand the Scripture. The first three proofs pertain to the bodily aspects of the resurrection and reflect the Hebrew understanding of life-after-death. While the Greeks believed that the soul is immortal and is freed from the body to live forever after death (a ghost), the Jews understood the body as animated by the breath of God (Gen 2:7). When the breath leaves the body, it dies and the individual ceases to be. (Ps 104:29) The only way to survive death is by resurrecting the body after death. Hence, Jesus insisted that they touch him and see him eat to show that he was not some ethereal apparition, but a real physical presence.
While the first three proofs of the resurrection are no longer directly available to us (Jesus has ascended into heaven), the fourth proof, the Scripture, is. When “Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scripture”, he made the disciples understand how the entire Old Testament (Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms) testifies to him and is fulfilled in him. “For Christians, the death-and-resurrection of Jesus is the key to the proper understanding of Scripture; and through the Scripture, the risen Christ continues to speak to us today.” (Living Liturgy)
The gospel ends with Jesus commissioning his disciples to be his witness. Being Jesus’ disciples, we too are included in this task. How can we witness to Christ’s resurrection? While the original witnesses can testify from direct experience, we can testify by our faith, which is no inferior to the former. As Jesus himself told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
How do we witness through our faith? We generally understand faith as belief in God. Faith however is more than just belief or assent to the truth about God; faith is a personal encounter with God which develops into an intimate relationship with him. Thus, to witness to Christ’s resurrection by faith means to testify to the risen Lord whom we have personally known.
When I was a student in theology, I had the fortune of attending a lecture given by Fr. Bernard Haring, the foremost moral theologian then. Pope Paul VI’s celebrated Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, had just been published, and the theme of the lecture was evangelization. The Redemptorist theologian spoke of evangelization as the proclamation of the good news. The good news proclaimed is not just some doctrine or way of life, but “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands.” (1Jn 1:1) What we proclaim is a person, whom we have met and known – “the Word of life.” Then looking straight to us, Fr. Haring said, “Dear Priests, Religious, Catechists, and Teachers, make sure you know Christ. If you don’t, beg earnestly for a God-experience, otherwise you have no business evangelizing for you have nothing to proclaim.”
We can acquire this God-experience in an extraordinary way, as in the case of St. Paul. God however gives this grace ordinarily to everyone through faith. We often forget that the gift of faith we received in baptism, is “a virtue infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting like his children… the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the human being.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1813)
Like every gift, faith is given in seed form that needs to be nurtured and brought to maturity. We grow in faith through the Word of God, the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, personal prayer and above all through a life of love for “faith without good deeds is dead.” (Jm 2:17)
When we live a life of love, we live God’s own life and are so transformed that “it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20) Then does our life become a testimony that “Christ lives, and he lives in me.”