It is Easter Sunday, and I’d like to share my personal interpretation of the Paschal Mystery, which refers to the dying, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Some theologians call this the “Jesus event,” as if it were a three-day shoe sale. I don’t like that phrase. Neither do I like the word “salvific,” which sounds like something you’d put on a rash. But that’s me.
In the reading from Luke (24:9), Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James, go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with aloes and myrrh. According to John (19:39), the spices weighed about a hundred pounds, so they probably had help carrying them. When they discovered the empty tomb and the two men in “dazzling garments” (Lk 24:4), they rushed back to tell the eleven disciples and “all the others” (Lk 24:9).
There are many instances in the Gospels of nameless people performing all kinds of acts, some significant, others less so. Think of the “young man” who runs away naked from Gethsemane (Mk 14:51), the woman with an alabaster jar of oil to anoint Jesus (Mt 26:6-13), the slave whose ear Peter cuts off, although he is named “Malchus” in John (18:10).
Then there is the Emmaus story of two travelers who “returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them” (Lk 24:33). Later, the eleven are named–Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Bartholomew, Simon the Zealot, James son of Alphaeus, and Judas son of James. They “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:13-14).
Perhaps the greatest example of anonymity is the “Canaanite woman” who turned Jesus’ message of salvation upside down by insisting that it belonged to everyone, not just Jews (Mt 15:21-28).
There is less anonymity in the Hebrew Bible, although it glosses over entire groups like foreigners and women. Some women like Judith, Esther, and Ruth are named; others fall into obscurity. One of them, “a widow” from Zarephath, shows faith, strength, and humility with Elijah, who asks her to wait on him before attending to her dying son (1 Kgs 17:7-14).
Modern historical criticism addressed anonymity years ago. Historians stopped writing about royalty and the ruling class to focus on the lower socio-economic classes and those without a voice. You see this in popular religiosity, “material” Christianity, and gender studies. You also see it throughout popular culture. It is the reason people today wear ripped jeans and shun formality. Unfortunately, many shun manners, too, which Marxists claim are about power and control. Foucault even wrote about “regimes of power.” I am tempted to write a blog called “Deconstruct This.” But that’s me again.
Anonymous people have appeared recently in my reading of Balzac, who calls them “hapless creatures” (Colonel Chabert), and The Aeneid, which refers to “those whose fame is hidden in darkness” (V, 302). Elsewhere, there is a reference to “the rest of the youth” not mentioned by name (V, 573). This is a problem only if you believe that our greatest drive in life is to be remembered. That means immortality. But what drives the quest for immortality if not fear? And fear is universal.
I am about to go into my business ethics class this week and talk about love. I am on shaky ground. Or am I? Is it a stretch to say that the Paschal Mystery is the ultimate act of anonymity? That Jesus’ death by crucifixion was both anonymous and ignoble? That his resurrection continues to be ridiculed and misunderstood? Is it also a stretch to believe that the mystery is a mystery because it is an act of love? What is love if not courage and sacrifice in the here and now?
The cult that interested Jesus was true worship of the Father, not pompous religious festivals that had the “stench” of hypocrisy (Am 5:21). True worship meant “releasing those bound unjustly,” “setting free the oppressed,” sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, “breaking every yoke,” “not turning your back on your own” (Is 58). When you do these things, “your light shall break forth like the dawn” (Is 58:8).
It was not the cult of celebrity, not Jesus Christ Superstar or American Idol. It was about having faith in everyday life and being present to those who suffered. My version of Easter runs like this. It’s about guys with bad haircuts and women with lipstick on their teeth–those who try but never quite succeed. Those who never got to sit at the cool table in the lunchroom. How could it be any other way?