Pastor's Column

 

Pastor’s Column March 31 – April 1, 2018

 
The Case for Jesus
 
During the first year of my studies in Rome, I went on a pilgrimage with some faculty
members and brother seminarians to the Holy Land. Our first week was spent in the peace and
tranquility of Galilee. Our second week, in contrast, took us to the bustle and chaos of Jerusalem,
which would have been just as true in Jesus’ day. The pinnacle of that part of our trip was our visit
to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a structure which contains both the place of Jesus’ crucifixion
on Calvary, as well as the tomb in which his lifeless body was laid. We had Mass in a chapel
attached to the tomb. The celebrant was Father Jim Quigley, a Dominican priest who was in
charge of homiletics. He got up to preach, his prepared text in hand, and was visibly moved. He
glanced at his text, looked up at us, and simply said, “Men, I spent a lot of time thinking about what
I would say at this place, but I think I will let the empty tomb speak for itself.” And with that he sat
down, we meditated in silence for a while, and then resumed the Mass.
The disciples first came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus because of the empty tomb.
While the accounts differ in some of the details, all four Gospels tell us that on the Sunday of
Passover week, the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathea had laid the body of Jesus was empty. For
many today, including even some who consider themselves Christian, whether Jesus actually rose
from the dead is questionable at best, but ultimately unimportant. For some, the resurrection of Jesus
means that, although he died on the cross, his spirit somehow lives on in the hearts of his followers.
For others, it means that his earliest followers believed that Jesus’ spirit went to heaven after he died
to take up an exalted position in God’s presence. These ideas go hand in hand with other popular
notions like Jesus was just a prophet, a healer, or a great moral teacher, but not a divine being.
But as Brant Pitre demonstrates in his recent book The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and
Historical Evidence for Christ, when you look at the actual evidence rather than subscribing to the
latest theories or assumptions of the skeptics, you find that it supports the reliability of the Gospels
as ancient Greco-Roman style biographies that were based on the eyewitness testimony of Jesus’
students and their followers, and were written within the lifetime of the apostles to proclaim the
Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord! In an interview published almost exactly one year ago
Dr. Pitre stated: “When the Jewish disciples claimed that Jesus was raised from the dead, they were
certainly not claiming that he had simply been resuscitated, or that his spirit lived on in the hearts of
his followers, or that his soul had gone to heaven after he died... Instead, what they were claiming
was that Jesus was now alive again in the same body that had been crucified, and that he would
never die again. In other words, they didn’t go around preaching the immortality of Jesus’ soul; they
proclaimed the resurrection of his body.” In his book Pitre also points out all the Old Testament
prophecies which Jesus fulfilled that helped to make the argument from Jewish Scripture such a
powerful motive of credibility for believing in the Resurrection for those first Jewish Christians.
Every Sunday we profess our belief that Jesus, “was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he
suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,”
and that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” As a
 
reviewer of The Case for Jesus says, “Brant Pitre does a stellar job setting forth a robust and rock-
solid case for Jesus. The sensationalistic claims of super skeptics are exposed as a sham as Pitre
 
provides a meticulous presentation of the evidence about the reliability of the Gospels, who
Jesus thought he was, and what Jesus means today.” Read the book for yourself and see; it is our
Easter gift to you. Happy Easter!
 
– Fr. Bob