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The Risen Christ Anchors Our Faith
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Did Jesus Rise From the Dead or Was He Raised From the Dead?
‘What Does ‘Today’ Mean?
Why Do We Call This Feast ‘Easter’?
Why Did Jesus Wash the Apostles’ Feet?
Resurrected Christ Being Neglected?

Q: I am very troubled by some of the new language that has crept into the Mass prayers and Scripture readings. Often this language lacks clarity or is simply false. For example, one passage refers to “the one who raised Jesus.” Excuse me? If someone else raised Jesus, his divinity is not assured. They cite Romans 10:9, but this is a new translation.

A: Yes, several New Testament passages in the New American Bible translation use the active voice regarding Jesus’ resurrection. For example, Jesus teaches the apostles that he must be rejected, killed “and rise after three days” (Mark 8:31). Jesus tells the apostles that the Son of Man [Jesus] will be scourged and killed “but on the third day he will rise” (Luke 18:33). In John 20:9 we read that Peter and the other disciple at Jesus’ tomb “did not yet understand the Scripture that he [Jesus] had to rise from the dead.” Paul taught the people “the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead...” (Acts 17:3).

On the other hand, many New Testament passages use the passive voice about this event. For example, after Paul speaks of “the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:24), the next verse speaks of Jesus who “was raised for our justification.” In Romans 6:4, Paul writes, “We were indeed buried with him [Christ] through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

St. Paul writes: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Later, Paul speaks of Jesus as having “been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20) and as having died for all people “so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

There are also several instances where God the Father is spoken of as raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:24, 10:40 and 13:30; Romans 8:11 and 10:9; 2 Corinthians 4:14).

In none of these passages is Jesus’ divinity in doubt because even when the passive voice is used, God is doing the raising. The Second Person of the Trinity is always involved whenever we speak of God as acting in the world.

Those who translate the Scriptures are very careful to keep verbs in the same voice (active or passive) that the original text uses. The passage that you cite has been translated accurately. Translations of Mass prayers are closely studied by episcopal conferences before the texts are submitted to the Holy See for formal approval.

When we are in doubt about a biblical text, we should look to related Scripture passages in order to understand what seems puzzling. For this reason, many Bibles provide cross-references to indicate such passages. The New American Bible, the New Jerusalem Bible and the New Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition) also provide helpful footnotes.

The community of faith’s prayerful and ongoing understanding of a Scripture passage is its best interpretation.

Q: For my first-grade CCD students, I go over the Sunday Gospels, using language that they can understand. One Scripture quote puzzles me.

When Jesus was talking to the two men crucified with him, he said to one of them, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). If those words were spoken on Good Friday and Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, how can this time frame be correct? Am I being too literal?

A: I consulted Father Hilarion Kistner, O.F.M., who taught Scripture at our province’s theology school when I was a student there. He suggests: “In a hidden way, Jesus went to heaven as soon as he died. So did the good thief. The resurrection of Jesus became public on Easter Sunday. We keep the liturgical days the way we do so that we can appreciate the meaning of this mystery. (Besides, three is a number often used in the Bible to indicate the special work of God.)”

In the highly respected Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J., writes, “Luke 23:43 makes Paradise the place where both Jesus and the repentant thief go after their death; this is the Paradise of the righteous....”

Once the repentant thief (or revolutionary, as these two men are described in Matthew 27:38) had died, why wouldn’t he go to heaven right away? Christian tradition and art have long depicted Jesus as leading into heaven all the righteous men and women who died before he did. The Risen Jesus did not need to be seen for that to occur.

The author of the Gospel of Luke neither restricted the term “today” to mean Good Friday nor excluded that interpretation.

Q: My 11-year-old great-grandson recently asked me why we call the resurrection of Jesus “Easter.” Is this a Greek word? Why don’t we call it the “Day of Resurrection”?

A: The English word Easter is derived from the Old English and Middle English terms for “East,” the direction from which many expected Christ to come at the Last Judgment.

Italian uses the term Pasqua for this feast; Spanish uses Pascua. Both of those terms are related to Passover.

Q: According to the Gospel of John, at the Last Supper Jesus washed the feet of his apostles (13:1-11). This has always puzzled me. Why did Jesus do this?

A: In the verses that immediately follow this event, Jesus asks his apostles: “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it” (John 13:12-17).

By washing the apostles’ feet, Jesus links authority to humble service. This gesture explains servant leadership in an unforgettable way. This passage reinforces the teaching given when Jesus calls a child over after the apostles ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus replies, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-5). Luke’s version of that incident appears in 9:46-48.

Jesus returns to this subject when the mother of James and John asks that her sons sit at Jesus’ right and left in his kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28). Jesus contrasts authority as the pagans understand it and authority as his followers should view it. He says, “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

Many Christians have seen the washing of the apostles’ feet as pointing to Jesus’ greatest act of service when, on the cross, he cleansed us from sin.

We should be grateful that the foot-washing story was not lost; it is found only in the Gospel of John. Because the temptation to use authority for domination is so strong, we always need to hear Jesus’ reminder that authority is for service.

Q: Why does the Catholic Church give more attention to the crucified Christ than to the resurrected Christ? Most Catholic churches have the crucified Christ hanging over the altar; they rarely have an image of the resurrected Christ. Isn’t it the resurrected Christ who gives us the power to live the Good News?

A: The New Testament speaks of and Catholic liturgy celebrates Jesus’ entire paschal mystery: his passion, death and resurrection. Apart from uses in the Gospels, the New Testament contains 26 other references to Jesus’ resurrection; each of them implies at the same time the passion and death of Jesus.

We see the crucified Christ as a sign of victory only because we realize that Jesus’ story did not end on Calvary. Death did not have the last word. In fact, there are some Catholic churches that have crucifixes representing Jesus as resurrected or as wearing priestly or royal garments. At every Mass, the eucharistic acclamation affirms all the moments of Jesus’ paschal mystery, into which we were baptized.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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