The reading: Luke 24:36-48.
The women returned from the tomb to tell the other disciples what they had seen and heard – Jesus was gone. They had been told by angels that Jesus had risen to fulfill what had been foretold in the law and the prophets. The women believed. But the rest of the disciples did not believe. Peter went to see for himself. We’re told that he saw the empty tomb and left questioning what had happened. Later it is recorded that Jesus appeared to him.
The disciples were still discussing this when the two disciples returned from Emmaus and related their interaction with the risen Christ. The man they met opened up the scripture – the resurrection foretold in the law and the prophets – he opened them up in their minds. They recognized the man as Jesus when he broke bread with them – they too saw, heard and ate with the risen Jesus. The disciples declared that, “Christ has risen indeed.” The fact of Jesus’ resurrection was incontrovertible – there were just too many people who had seen and heard – too much evidence.
Then in the midst of this discussion – immediately following the declaration that all believed in the resurrection of Christ – Jesus appears to them saying, “Peace be with you.” And, of course, all immediately recognized Jesus as the risen savior – they were all in wonder at this fulfillment of what had been foretold, they all saw for themselves what they knew to be true. Right?
They were startled and terrified. They thought they were seeing a ghost – an evil spirit. Jesus spoke to them, asked about their disbelief, showed them his hands and feet. Jesus said to them, “See that it is me, touch me and see.” Jesus, yet again, reinforced what they had previously witnessed by letting them hear, see and touch him. Finally, Jesus eats in front of them. Surely they recognize Jesus eating – that is when the disciples in Emmaus recognized him.
That, of course, would do it. Evidence piled on top of evidence. Account piled on account, with the people who heard and saw present. Finally, they would believe. Right?
At the same time they were joyful and in disbelief – joyful and questioning. Presumably they were joyful because of the hope that was welling up from the encounter – the anticipation of possibilities. But why were they still in disbelief – still questioning what they had seen for themselves, even after they declared, “Christ has risen indeed”? They just got more proof that what they professed to believe had actually happened, and yet they still questioned it.
Again, Jesus recounts the foretelling of his death and resurrection, and the repentance and forgiveness of sins that is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. Jesus opened up this scripture in their minds, just as he had done in Emmaus. Jesus reminds them of what he has already told them many times. Then Jesus ends with, “You are witnesses of these things.” And in that one word, “witnesses”, we hear what may be the entire problem.
What is a witness? In Jesus’ time, just as in ours, a witness is much more than someone who sees, hears or experiences – more than someone who believes. For instance, if you see a crime being committed, you are not truly a witness unless you testify to what you have seen.
The Greek word, marturion, is the root of our word for the ultimate witness – the martyr – the person who is willing to give up his or her life to testify. To be a witness is to be a testifier – to give testimony to the truth. The women at the tomb gave testimony about what they had seen and heard – they witnessed – but were met with ridicule.
Knowing that they would be required to be witnesses in the fullest sense; could that be why the disciples were afraid? Why they still questioned? Why they moved so easily towards disbelief, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence? Oh yes, they testified to each other – that’s pretty easy. Most of us are comfortable preaching to the choir. But that “all nations” thing is a little troubling isn’t it? Doesn’t that bring at least a little fear and trembling into our hearts? Those nations – those other people – may laugh or ridicule or, even, reject us. Even our own people may reject us from our own society – our own culture – our own place where we are comfortable. Makes me think twice about it – how about you?
Contrast that fear with the reality of Seminole Christian ministers in Oklahoma. Imagine people who believe in Christ so much that they are willing to testify about Christianity to Native Americans, to their own culture so poorly mistreated in the name of civilization and God. Let’s put ourselves in the position of Oklahoma’s Native Americans to whom they testify.
Christianity is the religion of those people who took our land – who drove us out – who marched us from our veritable paradise to a barren wasteland called Oklahoma. People of faith – Christians – gave us 80% of Oklahoma in treaties dating back as early as 1820 after being moved from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and much more. More of us still live in Oklahoma than any other state.
Later generations of these same Christians took back the land – when they realized it wasn’t as desolate as they thought – so that by 1930, we only held 5% of what was originally given to us by the U.S. government. And it was the most useless 5%.
Since then, this same nation has kept the revenue from mineral and oil rights and refused to account for it. They dole it out in little bits and publicly call it welfare, except it is really oil, gas and mineral income from our own land. Money collected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs from leases they negotiate, supposedly for our benefit. They don’t think we can take care of our own resources – we need caretakers.
22 times since 1890 Congress has ordered the Bureau to account for our money and our land, but they still keep it and say it is safe. Meanwhile, over 70% of the resources legally owned by us have disappeared from the Bureau’s books since 1930. We now own less land per capita than any other Indians in any other area or state administered by the Bureau. We also receive less money than any other Indians, even though we have the most oil and gas reserves.
This is a brief history of our dealings with Christians. Christianity is the “white man’s faith” – the faith of those who took almost all we had, and just kept taking.
And these Native Americans ministers, Seminoles themselves, believe so strongly that they are willing to risk rejection by their own people to testify to this “white man’s faith” and minister to their people. They believe so strongly in Jesus’ message of forgiveness and reconciliation that they are willing to risk estrangement from their own culture.
Imagine the courage that takes. Was it the need for courage like this that made the disciples afraid and doubt? Do WE have the courage to witness in this way – to testify even though it is counter to our own culture and cause us to be estranged?