The inner circle of disbelief – Saturday within the Easter Octave – Acts 4:13-21/Mark 16:9-15
For most Christians, the Easter proclamation, “he is risen” has become a creedal proclamation. We don’t have any difficulty saying, ‘Jesus is risen’ or ‘He is alive.’ However, creedal proclamations, if not truly reflected upon, can come as a nasty shock when God decides to put our proclamations or faith statements to the test.
Take for example the proclamation we sing at Mass, “I surrender all.” While it is not a creedal proclamation it is a proclamation of faith. But what If God decided to take you seriously and take all you have and truly ask for your surrender to his will? Would you be mad at God or shocked?
Or for example, we profess our own hope in the resurrection of the body, of life everlasting and of heaven and hell. What if we profess this, preach it, proclaim it but not live it or truly believe it? The result will be seen in us standing on the wrong side of the pearly gates.
In the narrative of today, ‘the eleven’ find themselves at the wrong end of the stick. The resurrection was something Jesus spoke of at length and he does this thrice in the Gospel of Mark; in chapters eight, nine and ten. This is not something new as a concept. Yet when the resurrection of Jesus did come to pass, they ‘stubbornly’ refuse to believe.
The word stubbornness finds its way in the Easter narrative to describe the eleven closest collaborators of Jesus. This was the inner circle that had heard Jesus preach every doctrine over three years. The resurrection was admittedly a tough one for them to understand. In Luke 18:34 Jesus talks about his passion death and resurrection. Scripture tells us, “They understood nothing about these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Yet, at the raising of Lazarus in John 11, Martha professes not only her faith in the resurrection on the last day but at Jesus’ prompting professes her faith in Jesus as the resurrection and the life. The eleven struggled and Martha got it all right!
So why is it that the eleven did not heed the words of Mary of Magdala whom the Lord appeared to (16:9) and those or the two disciples in the country to whom he appeared? (16:12) Interestingly the Gospel text of today lays it out clearly; the closest and dearest in Jesus’ inner circle, “lacked faith and were stubborn.” These are harsh words to hear in the Easter narrative.
Make no mistake, Jesus did not upbraid the eleven because they betrayed, denied or ran away from him during his passion and suffering. We know from the Gospels that he asks the women to “go to his brothers.” He calls them brothers and in that he has clearly forgiven them but when faith is rejected because we cling on to our stubbornness, then you see Humble Jesus, now no longer meek but riled.
Jesus us not unreasonable in his anger when he ‘upbraided them.’ His resurrection was something he discussed several times and after his resurrection he sent Mary of Magdala and the two disciples and yet they did not believe.
Stubbornness is a choice and a sin. In Scripture, this word “stubborn” is often surrounded by other “challenging” words such as proud, rebellious, unfaithful, greedy, obstinate and defiant. None of these actions or attitudes are in line with Perfect Love. The sin of stubbornness and arrogance, which is strengthened by pride, is awful. This is the sin of the devil himself (Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:14; Ezekiel 28:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:4). He will deceive you into believing his lie, then he will entangle you in his punishment, if you let him.
It is ironic that the Easter message was at first rejected by the eleven because of their stubbornness. This is so because Christianity is not sanitized and given to us packaged in a bow. The fact that the failures of the eleven are out on display draws each of us to evaluate our own failings; our own stubbornness and surrender it in faith to the Lord. We have to die to our pride, our thoughts, our ways, our wants, our beliefs for the Lord to rise in our hearts.