Matthew 28:11-15 Common English Bible (CEB)
11 Now as the women were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 They met with the elders and decided to give a large sum of money to the soldiers. 13 They told them, “Say that Jesus’ disciples came at night and stole his body while you were sleeping. 14 And if the governor hears about this, we will take care of it with him so you will have nothing to worry about.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were told. And this report has spread throughout all Judea to this very day.It is the Sunday after Easter. Jesus is risen. We've proclaimed the good news. But not everyone is happy. As is often the case, there are those who have a vested interest in a different version of things. We see this in politics all the time. We call this spin. Well, the religious leaders have a vested interest in Jesus being dead. If he's dead, he'll be out of their hair. One more pretender to messianic glory will have been dispatched. So, when the news comes that Jesus is risen -- or at least that his body was missing, the leaders must buy off the guards they had placed at the tomb. These guards were Roman soldiers, whom the religious leaders had requested from Pontius Pilate to "guard against" such an eventuality (Matthew 27:62-66)
So, they concoct a story. What is the story? Well, you may have heard that Jesus is risen. Not true! No, the disciples came and stole the body while the guards were sleeping. There are lots of reasons why this doesn't work, but the story got out -- as hoped. Disinformation will undermine the message. Seeds of doubt are sown.
So the question for us today -- do you buy the disinformation? Do you take the word of the guards who are bought off, even though this requires them to admit that they were derelict in their duty (something Roman soldiers would have been reluctant to do -- but not in this case)? Or do you believe the lives of of a group of people who had watched their leader die on a cross?
The choice is ours!
As William Willimon puts it:
Whenever confronted by this text in preaching or teaching, the church does not have to work up enthusiasm for some personal, inner, heightened spiritual experience. We must simply have the courage joyfully to what we have seen. Christ is risen! We cannot explain that, need not attempt laboriously to argue that. We must simply stand and deliver that which we have seen, tell the truth of our collective surprise that, although the death-dealing world has done its worst in torturing Jesus to death, God refused to be defeated by death and defiantly vindicated Jesus' way as God's way by raising him from the dead. [Feasting on the Gospels--Matthew, Volume 2, pp. 364, 366]It may not be popular. It may not fit with modern expectations -- but it is the message given to us. Will we receive it?
- Note on this passage, which is not in the Revised Common Lectionary but appears in David Ackerman's Beyond the Lectionary: you will notice in the final verse of the passage, that Matthew metnions that this story has spread among and is believed by the Jews. Although this is a unique usage in Matthew, we must always be aware of anti-Jewish readings of the New Testament. Remember -- Jesus and his early disciples were Jews!