Dead Man Walking
I have never been attracted to science fiction. It’s too far-fetched. I’ve tried to read Harry Potter—three times. By the second chapter, I’ve lost interest. Whenever I hear one of those preposterous stories told in the Bible, I cringe for fear that people will literalize it. For example, all the stories about Jesus’s resurrection, which I have nicknamed “Dead Man Walking,” after Sister Helen Prejean’s book and movie about her work on death row. There is no way that I can believe any one of those four resurrection tales as historical fact. However, I do believe they contain great truths.
In last week’s blog, I shared the idea that once I promoted God to encompass the whole universe, not just oversee little old earth, and demoted Jesus to a fellow human being with a life-transforming message, much of the dogma and doctrine (D&D) disappeared.
I suggested some fifteen ideas that vanished but deliberately did not mention resurrection, probably the most important piece of dogma in the Christian church. I wanted to give it special attention.
By starting with a reality check, I can show you what probably happened. Jesus was crucified for the crime of sedition, claiming to be a king, which he never did. The Jewish leadership made up that charge. In the Roman Empire, there was no way that the Romans would have ever allowed someone charged with sedition to be taken away for a private burial. Here is what ordinarily would have happened: Once the centurion certified that Jesus was completely dead, soldiers would have piled the body on a cart loaded with other crucified bodies to be taken to the trash dump and cremated. Soldiers accompanied the bodies and stayed at the dump, keeping watch to make certain that no one could steal a body or any part of it and attempt to make that person a martyr. Failure for a soldier to follow such orders would have resulted in his crucifixion. Reality says that Jesus was totally cremated.
My next point: the first story we read in the New Testament about a physical resurrection of Jesus was written over fifty-five years after Jesus was crucified. The original version of Mark, the first Gospel written about 70 CE, did not contain a resurrection story. A redactor added one years later (see Mark 16:9–20). We read an actual story in Matthew, written about 85 to 95 CE. Luke and Acts made it a longer and more detailed event, while John did his own thing. None of the other seventeen noncanonical gospels discovered in the 1940s, except for the Gospel of Peter, tells a resurrection story.
My final point centers around the fact that when Jewish authors wrote a story, they were not trying to share a historically true event; instead, they wrapped a good tale around a great truth. In this case, the truth starts with a terrible event such as Jesus being executed on that not so Good Friday. We all have our “Good Fridays”—one of those days when negative stuff happens. Some folks insist on staying in that event or don’t know how to move beyond it, but Jesus’s story suggests that by using the tools of agape, the highest form of love, we can change any not so Good Friday into an Easter by rising above the horrific event and moving on.
I just can’t buy into Jesus suddenly showing up after he was dead, walking out of an empty tomb, going through locked doors, eating breakfast with two strangers, teaching his friends how to fish, chitchatting with strangers while walking along a road. That’s my version of first-century science fiction.
However, I can subscribe to the idea of making Easters out of our Good Fridays, or, in the modern vernacular, making lemonade out of lemons.
Any thoughts? Do you believe in dead men walking?