The third installment of a wonderful chapter from the Life of Christ. Widely proclaimed a classic work of Christian faith, Life of Christ has been hailed as the most eloquent of Fulton J. Sheen’s many books. The fruit of many years of reflection, prayer, and research, it is a dramatic and moving recounting of the birth, life, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ, and a passionate portrait of the God-Man, the teacher, the healer, and, most of all, the Savior, whose promise has sustained humanity for two millenia.
Guards And Bribery
After the women had gone to notify the Apostles, the guards, who had been standing about the tomb, and who were witnesses to the Resurrection, came into the city of Jerusalem and told the chief priests all that had been done. The chief priests immediately assembled a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the express purpose of which was to bribe the guards.
These offered a rich bribe to the soldiers;
Let this, they said, be your tale,
His disciples came by night and stole Him away,
While we were asleep.
If this should come to the ears of the governor,
We will satisfy him,
And see that no harm comes to you.
The soldiers took the bribe,
And did as they were instructed; and this
Is the tale which has gone
Abroad among the Jews, to this day.
The “rich bribe” contrasted rather strongly with the meager thirty pieces of silver which Judas received. The Sanhedrin did not deny the Resurrection; in fact, they bore their own unbiased testimony to its truth. And that same testimony they carried to the Gentiles through Pilate. They even gave the money of the temple to the Roman soldiers whom they despised; for they had found a greater hate. The money Judas had returned they would not touch because it was “blood money.” But now they would buy a lie to escape the purifying Blood of the Lamb.
The bribery of the guard was really a stupid way to escape the fact of the Resurrection. First of all, there was the problem what would be done with His Body after the disciples had possession of it. All that the enemies of Our Lord would have have to do to disprove the Resurrection would be to produce the Body.
Quite apart from the fact that it was very unlikely that whole guard of Roman soldiers slept while they were on duty, it was absurd for them to say that what had happened, happens when they were asleep. The soldiers were advised to say they we asleep; and yet they were so awake as to have seen thieves and know that they were disciples. If all of the soldiers were asleep, they could never have discovered the thieves; if a few of them were awake, they should have prevented the theft.
It is equally improbable that a few timid disciples should attempt to steal their Master’s Body from a grave closed by stone, officially sealed, and guarded by soldiers without awakening the sleeping guards. The orderly arrangement of the burial cloths afforded further proof that the Body was not removed by His disciples.
The secret removal of the Body would have been to no purpose so far as the disciples were concerned, nor had any of them even thought of it; for the moment, the life of their Master was a failure and a defeat. The crime was certainly greater in the bribers than in the bribed; for, the council was educated and religious; the soldiers were untutored and simple. The Resurrection of Christ was officially proclaimed to the civil authorities; the Sanhedrin believed in the Resurrection before the Apostles. It had bought the kiss of Judas; now it hoped it could buy the silence of the guards.
Broken Hearts And Broken Bread
On that same Easter Sunday, Our Blessed Lord made another appearance to two of His disciples who were on their way to a village named Emmaus, which was a short distance from Jerusalem. It was not so long ago that their hopes had been burning brightly, but the darkness of Good Friday and the burial in the tomb caused them to lose their gladness. No subject was more in men’s minds that particular day than the Person of Christ.
As they were discoursing with sad and anxious hearts on the awful incidents of the last two days, a Stranger drew near to them. Their eyes, however, were held fast so that they did not recognize that it was the Risen Savior; they thought Him to be an ordinary traveler. As the story unfolded, it became clear that what blinded their eyes was their unbelief, had they been expecting to see Him, they might have recognized Him.
Because they were interested in Him, He vouchsafed His Presence; because they doubted His Resurrection, He concealed the joy and knowledge of His Presence. Now that His Body was glorified, what men saw of Him depended on His willingness to reveal Himself and also on the disposition of their own hearts. Though they did not know Our Lord, they nevertheless were ready to enter into, discussion with the Stranger concerning Him. After listening to their long discussion, the Stranger asked:
What talk is this you exchange between you
As you go along, sad faced?
Obviously, the reason these disciples were sad was because of their bereavement. They had been with Jesus; they had seen Him arrested, insulted, crucified, dead, and buried. Sorrow afflicts woman’s heart when she loses the beloved; but men generally become perplexed in mind rather than heart at a similar loss; theirs was the sorrow of a shattered career.
The Savior with His infinite wisdom did not begin by saying “I know why you are sad.” His technique was rather to draw them out; a sorrowful heart is best consoled when it relieves itself. Their sorrow would have a tongue and speak, He would have ear and reveal. If they would but show their wounds, He would pour in the oil of His healing.
One of the two, whose name was Cleophas, was the first to speak. He expressed amazement at the ignorance of the Stranger Who was apparently so unfamiliar with the events of the last few days.
What, art thou the only pilgrim in Jerusalem
Who has not heard of what has happened
There in the last few days?
The risen Lord asked:
He called their attention to facts. They apparently had not gone deeply enough into the facts for proper conclusions. The cure for their sorrow was in the very things that disturbed them, to see them in their right relations. As with the woman at the well, He asked a question, not to get information, but to deepen knowledge of Himself. Then not Cleophas alone but also his companion told Him what had happened. They spoke:
About Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet
Whose words and acts had power with God,
And with all the people; how the chief priests,
And our rulers, handed Him over
To be sentenced to death, and so crucified Him.
For ourselves, we had hoped that it
Was He who was to deliver Israel; but now,
To crown it all, to-day is the third Day since it befell.
Some women, indeed, who belonged to our company,
Alarmed us; they had been at the tomb early in the morning
And could not find His Body; whereupon
They came back and told us that they had seen
A vision of angels, who said that He was alive.
Some of those who were with us went to the tomb,
And found that all was as the women had said,
But of Him they saw nothing.
These men had hoped great things, but God, they said, had disappointed them. Man draws a blueprint and hopes that God in some way will rubber-stamp it; disappointment is often due to the triviality of human hopes. Original drawings now had to be torn up — not because they were too great, but because in the eyes of God they were too little. The hand that broke the cup of their petty desires offered a richer chalice. They thought that they had found the Redeemer before He was crucified, but actually they had discovered a Redeemer crucified.
They had hoped for a Savior of Israel, but were not expecting a Savior of the Gentiles as well. They must have heard Him say on many occasions that He would be crucified and rise again, but they could not fit catastrophe into their idea of a Master. They could believe in Him as a Teacher, as a political Messias, as an ethical reformer, as a savior of the country, a deliverer from the Romans, but they could not believe in the foolishness of the Cross; nor did they have the faith of the thief hanging on the cross.
Hence they refused to regard the evidence of which the women had told them. They were not sure even that the women had seen angels. Possibly it was only an apparition. Furthermore, it was the third day which had come and gone, and He had not been seen. But all the while they were walking and talking with Him.
There seemed to be a double purpose in the appearance of Our Savior after His Resurrection, one to show that He Who died had risen, the other, that though He had the same Body, it was now glorified and not subject to physical restrictions. Later on, He would eat with His disciples to prove the first; now, as with the Magdalen whom He forbade to touch Him, He stressed His risen state.
With these disciples as with all of the Apostles, there was no predisposition to accept the Resurrection. The evidence for it had to make its way against doubt and the most obstinate refusals of human nature. They were among the last people in the world to credit such a tale. One might almost say that they were resolved to be miserable, refusing to enquire into the possibility of the truth of the story. Resisting both the evidence of the women and the confirmation of those who had gone to verify their story, the final word was that they had not seen the risen Lord.
Then the risen Savior said to them:
Too slow of wit, too dull of heart,
To believe all those sayings of the prophets!
Was it not to be expected that the Christ
Should undergo these sufferings,
And enter so into his glory?
Luke 24:25, 26
They are accused of being foolish and slow of heart, because if they had ever sat down and examined what the prophets had said about the Messias — that He would be led like a lamb to slaughter — they would have been confirmed in their belief. Credulity toward men and incredulity toward God is the mark of dull hearts; readiness to believe speculatively and slowness to believe practically is the sign of sluggish hearts.
Then came the key words of the journey. Previously, Our Blessed Lord had said that He was the Good Shepherd, that He came to lay down His life for the Redemption of many; now in His glory, He proclaimed a moral law that in consequence of His sufferings men would be raised from a state of sin to fellowship with God.
The Cross was the condition of glory. The Risen Savior spoke of a moral necessity grounded on the truth that everything that happened to Him had been foretold. What seemed to them an offense, a scandal, a defeat, a succumbing to the inevitable was actually a dark moment foreseen, planned, and preannounced. Though the Cross seemed to them incompatible with His glory, to Him it was the appointed path thereto. And if they had known what the Scriptures had said of the Messias, they would have believed in the Cross.
Then going back to Moses and the whole line of prophets,
He began to interpret the words
Used of Himself by all the Scriptures.
He showed to them all the types and all the rituals and all the ceremonials that were fulfilled in Him. Quoting from Isaias He showed the manner of His death and Crucifixion and His Last Words from the Cross; from Daniel, how He was to to become the mountain that filled the earth; from Genesis, how the seed of a woman would crush the serpent of evil in human hearts; from Moses, how He would be the brazen serpent that would be lifted up to heal men of evil, and how His side would be the smitten rock from which would come the water of regeneration; from Isaias, how He would be Emmanuel, “God with us”; from Micheas, how He would be born in Bethlehem; and from many other writings He gave them the key the mystery of God’s life among men and the purpose of His coming.
At last they arrived at Emmaus. He made it appear as if I were about to continue His journey along the same road, just once before when a storm was sweeping the lake, He made appear as though He would pass by the boat of the Apostles. The two disciples begged Him, however, to stay with the Those who have good thoughts of God in the day will not readily surrender them at nightfall. They had learned much, but they knew that they had not learned all. They still did not recognize Him, but there was a light about Him which promised to lead to a fuller revelation and dissipate their gloom. Their invitation to be a guest He accepted, but immediately He acted as the Host for:
When He sat down at table with them,
He took bread, and blessed, and broke it,
And offered it to them; whereupon their eyes
Were opened, and they recognized Him;
And with that, He disappeared from their sight.
Luke 24:30, 31
This taking of the bread and breaking it and giving it to them was not an ordinary act of courtesy, for it resembled too closely the Last Supper at which He bade His Apostles to repeat the Memorial of His death as He broke the bread which was His Body and gave it to them.
Immediately on the reception of the Sacramental Bread that was broken, the eyes of their souls were opened. As the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened to see their shame after they had eaten the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, so now the eyes of the disciples were opened to discern the Body of Christ.
The scene parallels the Last Supper: in both there was a giving of thanks; in both, a looking up to heaven; in both, the breaking of the bread; and in both, the giving of the bread to the disciples. With the conferring of the bread came a knowledge which gave greater clarity than all the instructions. The breaking of the bread had introduced them into an experience of the glorified Christ. Then He disappeared from their sight. Turning to one another, they reflected:
Were not our hearts burning within us
When He spoke to us on the road,
And when He made the Scriptures plain to us?
His influence upon them was both affective and intellectual: affective, in the sense that it made their hearts burn with love; and intellectual, inasmuch as it gave them an understanding of the hundreds of preannouncements of His coming. Mankind is naturally disposed to believe that anything religious must be striking and powerful enough to overwhelm the imagination.
Yet this incident on the road to Emmaus revealed that the most powerful truths often appear in the commonplace and trivial incidents of life, such as meeting a fellow traveler on a road. Christ veiled His Presence in the most ordinary roadway of life. Knowledge of Him came as they walked with Him; and the knowledge was that of glory that came through defeat. In His Glorified Life as in His public life, the Cross and glory went together. It was not just His teachings that were recalled; it was His sufferings and how expedient they were for His exaltation.
The disciples immediately returned and went back to Jerusalem. As the woman at the well in her excitement left her water pitcher at the well, so these disciples forgot the purpose of their journey to Emmaus and went back to the Holy City. There they found the eleven Apostles gathered together, and with them other followers and disciples. They recounted all that had happened on the way and how they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.