‘A Long Hard Road with a Good, Good End’
In Hollywood’s latest biblical offering: ‘Risen’, a Roman soldier (played by Joseph Fiennes) is sent to find the missing body of Jesus by Pontius Pilate (https://youtu.be/xxgm2TJr2m0). The film is a work of creative fiction that interacts with the Gospel in a ‘what if?’ scenario. It reminds me that if the Gospel writers were creating a fiction then, as I often tell my students, why make women the first witnesses to the Resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:11-18)? If you were making the whole thing up, then at least make Jesus’ male disciples the first on the scene, or better still throw in a few members of the Jewish ruling Council and maybe a Roman soldier or two. Instead the soldiers sleep through the whole event and the male disciples are all in hiding, fearing for their lives. The Jewish Council and the Romans are left to assume that the body has been stolen, and hence the Hollywood storyline.
But to place women at the empty tomb was either madness or the truth. Around the world today women still face gross inequality reflected in education, healthcare and careers; and in countless cases, of abuse. Yet, the ancient world was incomparably worse in its treatment of women. They were, at worst, the property of men – without rights or representation apart from a father or husband. As unreliable witnesses, their evidence was inadmissible in a court of law. Who would listen then to a woman’s testimony that they had seen the risen Christ? Even the male disciples disbelieve them – it was an overemotional response to grief. If you want to fool people into believing that Jesus is the death-defying Son of God, then don’t have Him appear to women!
No, the Gospel writers are telling us exactly what happened – no more, no less – their objective is to tell the truth, not write a legend. Moreover, we have to ask ourselves why followers of Jesus from the very first disciples to the present day would be willing to die for a mere legend or a lie. From first-century Rome to twenty-first century Iraq and Syria many of those who call this itinerant Jewish teacher from Nazareth their Lord and their God have suffered barbaric execution for their faith. Why do so, unless their faith is in the truth? Truth is not an idea or a consensus with facts but a person: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’, says Jesus (John 14:6).
The title of this reflection is taken from the song ‘Good, Good End’ (https://youtu.be/cfLhmDzLotg). It well defines the experience of following Christ. For many of us life is a long hard road. For those fleeing the Middle East on treacherous journeys across land or in overloaded boats across the Mediterranean, the road of life is nothing short of hard or long. For those who live in the shadow of terrorism and an uncertain future in this world, the road is long and hard. For those struggling to feed a family or pay their bills in economic austerity; for those battling life-threatening diseases or watching loved ones succumb to them, the road is long and hard. Many walk with pain, brokenness and fear. It’s a long hard road without hope and leads to who knows where?
In my view, the hardest road ever walked was the one that led to Golgotha (‘the place of the skull’). Jesus walked that road not only with the pain of an agonisingly cruel beating, not only with the betrayal and abandonment of his earthly friends and companions; but he carried the pain of a broken world torn apart by selfishness, hate and pride, and the sense that He was ultimately alone in this world – abandoned by his Father. ‘‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). It’s not politically or socially correct to mention that dirty little word, but one way or another ‘sin’ is the cause of all our pain and sorrow – past, present and future. An innocent man died in the gravest miscarriage of justice that ever took place – falsified charges, inconsistent accusations, jealousy, malice, and a conspiracy concocted by no less than the devil himself. Yes, life is unfair, life is unjust… the road is hard.
But wait… there’s a ‘good, good end’! The devil, as usual, overplays his hand. It turns out that the Father has not abandoned His Son, and death has no claim on the Lamb of God. At the end of that hardest road there is a good, good end. The women go to the tomb expecting to see soldiers who might help them remove the stone, so they can anoint Jesus’ corpse (what they were unable to do when Jesus was hurriedly entombed before the Sabbath sunset). However, they are greeted by radiant angels, who in no uncertain terms tell them that if they are looking for Jesus, then they are looking in the wrong place: ‘He is not here, He has risen’ (Matthew 28:6). When they see the risen Jesus, their grief turns to joy and their despair to hope. The good, good ending makes the Gospel good, ‘good news’. The Apostle Paul wrote, ‘if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead’ (1 Corinthians 15:17-20).
Maybe you are trying to keep your head above life’s adversities. Maybe you are struggling to take another step down the long, hard road. Remember those women whose lives were transformed as they looked upon the risen Jesus and heard His voice calling them out of their pain. Remember those followers of Jesus throughout the ages who have carried their cross with the full assurance that, like Him, they will rise again. Remember that the Gospels were ‘written [so] that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31). Without the cross and Resurrection of Jesus you can forget the film – it’s meaningless. But the same ‘Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead’ (Romans 8:11) is yours for the asking, so take your next step down this long hard road with a Risen life.
Dr Tony Biondi
American Academy Larnaca (Religious Studies)