The fish, the water, and the resurrection

This Sunday we’ll celebrate Easter, the day the disciples discovered Jesus had been raised from the dead. The lectionary invites us to ponder Mark 16:1-8. The English Standard Version supplies the passage with the title “The Resurrection.”

It tells us: Two nights passed after Jesus had died and was placed in a tomb. On Sunday, just after sunrise, three women, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome,” came to the tomb. They had bought spices. They brought the spices to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. They knew the entrance to the tomb had been sealed with a massive stone. They worried about who would help them move the stone. They saw that the stone had already been moved. They entered. They saw a young man sitting inside the tomb. He was “dressed in a white robe.” The women were terrified. The man spoke. He told them “Jesus of Nazareth,” who was crucified, had risen, wasn’t there, as they could see for themselves. Jesus had been raised up. The man told them to go tell “Jesus’ disciples and Peter” to go meet Jesus in Galilee, just as Jesus had told them before. The women were stunned. They sped off. They “said nothing to anyone.” They were afraid.

That’s Mark’s account of the moment members of Jesus’ camp discovered his body was missing. It differs in some ways from the accounts in the gospels according to Matthew, Luke and John. I’ll give you just three examples of differences:

My first example is time. Mark says the tomb visit was “just as the sun was coming up.” Matthew says the tomb visit was at first light; Luke says at daybreak; John says “Early on Sunday, while it was still dark.”

My second example is number of women. Mark names three: Two Marys’, one Salome; Matthew names “Mary of Magdala and the other Mary.” Luke says “women,” but doesn’t name them. John names only Mary of Magdala.

My third example is purpose of the visit. Mark says the women went to anoint Jesus with spices they had bought. Matthew says they went to inspect the tomb. Luke says they brought spices they had prepared. John doesn’t say why Mary went.

Why are there differences?

I’ve sat in many courtrooms and listened to witnesses give their accounts of what they saw and heard. I’ve come to see that one proof of truth is, ironically, some differences in the accounts. If there are no differences, it’s because the witnesses have based their testimony on one common account, whether true or fabricated.

A complete agreement among witnesses is often proof of fabrication, collaboration, or witnesses describing what they saw, read, or heard in a report, not what they actually saw or heard at the time of the incident. This is why I think the differences in the accounts confirm, not deny, that Jesus was resurrected, raised up from the dead.

Also, only Jesus’ resurrection and his meeting the disciples can explain three facts:

First, the disciples turned from fearing the authorities to confronting the authorities.

Second, many of the disciples were executed because they were adamant that Jesus whom the empire killed as an enemy of the state was, in fact, the one who deserved to be honoured as #1. Not Caesar, the proud, brutal, greedy, head of the Roman empire.

Third, the disciples succeeded so well that within three centuries, the emperor himself became a Christian.

I come now to Easter Day and the passage before us. Because of the differences in the accounts, some people say the accounts were fabricated and Jesus wasn’t resurrected. I maintain that the differences confirm, not deny, what happened.

We’re too apt to focus on the differences. We should ask rather, why did each author mention the women? They were telling a story. The fact that the women were there was important. They had to introduce the women before saying what they discovered.

It’s like me writing that a witness I heard last week was helped to the witness box by her son. No judge would write this in his judgment. A reporter would. Because the purpose of their writing is not the same. Reporters describe the water before they describe the fish. Judges fish out the facts.

Also, the gospel authors may have felt it necessary to counter false claims by those who killed Jesus that the women had stolen his body. Those who killed Jesus had to deny Jesus’ resurrection. But they couldn’t produce Jesus’ body. So they fabricated lies.

The point is that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The point is that he had told them he would be humiliated, killed, and raised from the dead, and that he would then meet them in Galilee. The point is that what he said did come true. The point is that he is the Messiah promised by God, the lamb that takes away the sin of the world.

We celebrate Easter because we believe the Bible’s accounts of Jesus; because we believe the testimony of those who’ve met him for over 20 centuries; because we believe Jesus is unique; because we too have met him; because we live in communities formed by him; and because we believe God alone should be #1 in everyone’s lives.

Don’t fail to see the fish because of the water.

Peace be with you.

2 thoughts on “The fish, the water, and the resurrection”

  1. Pingback: Jesus wished them peace in their terror – Bangsar Lutheran Church

  2. Pingback: Why did Jesus eat the fish? Are there toilets in heaven? – Bangsar Lutheran Church

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