Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.
People did not recognise Jesus very easily when he appeared after his resurrection. Some thought they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:37); he showed himself “under another form” to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12); and even Mary Magdalene thought at first that he was the gardener (John 20:15).
We give supreme authority to bodily sight: “seeing is believing.” Aristotle said that sight is “our principal source of knowledge.” But this kind of sight was not adequate to recognising the risen Christ. It requires a seeing from the heart and the spirit, not from the eyes. People who claim today to have seen apparitions give the impression that they have exceptional faith; but what they are doing is just going back to eyesight and suggesting that this is superior to faith. Religion is always only millimetres away from fantasy and projection; it can be naive beyond words. A woman who claimed to have had a vision of St Joseph was asked how she knew it was St Joseph. “Sure, doesn't everyone know what St Joseph looks like?” she replied.
God is not captured by the eye, nor even by the mind. “We cannot grasp what God is,” said St Thomas Aquinas. We cannot ‘grasp’ God – neither with our eyesight nor with our minds. God cannot be possessed in the way we possess a thing; it is the other way around: we are possessed by God; we are grasped by God.
Our faith is a bottomless ocean. How could it be otherwise? St Paul prays that the Ephesians, “knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge… [will be] filled with the utter fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).
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