|The empty tomb...|
He was referring, of course, to the Apostles. The men who ran for cover when Jesus was arrested and cowered behind closed doors for days, thinking they were next.
Then, all of a sudden, from one day to the next, without having gone to see the Great Oz in the Emerald City, like the cowardly lion, they came out from the shadows and boldly and courageously proclaimed the Risen Lord, despite persecution, despite threats, despite being tortured, despite being thrown in jail and despite most of them, except for St. John, the beloved disciple, dying for what they proclaimed.
In fact, they began to promulgate that Christ had risen from the dead in the same place where it all had happened; Jerusalem, where hundreds of eye witnesses had seen Jesus be crucified, die and be buried and could easily dispel their claims as a hoax.
In other words, if I were making up a story, would I start it where it could easily be challenged? Or, would it make more sense to go to some far away and obscure township, where nobody knew or saw anything and I could make up a fantasy without having it contested?
And yet, thousands were converted and Christianity spread like wildfire. And, within three hundred years of the Crucifixion, those cowardly and mostly uneducated men, and their successors after them, had converted the entire Roman Empire, not by the sword as Islam did when it conquered a region, but in spite of it.
In one of my favorite "go-to" books on the faith, Catholic Christianity, author Peter Kreeft (Who is a Philosophy and Theology Professor at Boston College, a Catholic convert and one of the most prolific Christian writers of our time), writes, "Liars do not suffer and die for a lie as they did; nothing proves sincerity like martyrdom. And if they were deceived rather than deceivers, they must have been hallucinating or projecting their subjective faith into objective reality. But they had touched the risen Christ. He had eaten food. He had had long conversations with many men at the same time. He had been seen by all who were present, not just some. No hallucination in history ever behaved like this.... And no hallucination ever had such power to transform lives and to give love, joy, peace, hope, and meaning to millions of men for thousands of years. For the sake of this "hallucination" saints joyfully endured tortures, persecutions, crucifixions, and martyrdoms. This "hallucination" changed soft, cowardly hearts into hard, courageous ones and converted the hard, cruel Roman Empire to a religion of unselfish love..."
Kreeft goes on to quote St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote, "In this faith there are truths preached which surpass every human intellect; the pleasures of the flesh are curbed; it is taught that the things of the world should be spurned. Now for the minds of mortal men to assent to these things is the greatest of miracles... For it would be truly more wonderful than all miracles if the world had been led by simple and lowly men to believe such lofty truths, to accomplish such difficult actions and to have such high hopes."
A Pharisee in the Acts of the Apostles may have said it best when he told the Jewish Council after the Apostles were arrested and brought before them, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men... because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. In that case, you may even be found fighting against God." (Acts 5:35, 39)
For me, it all comes down to the empty tomb. They discovered the empty tomb, of which Fulton Sheen eloquently noted, "In the history of the world, only one tomb has ever had a rock rolled before it, and a soldier guard set to watch it to prevent the dead man within from rising... What spectacle could be more ridiculous than armed soldiers keeping their eyes on a corpse?" and they encountered the Risen Lord.
Their "hallucination" was a reality, that even doubting Thomas had to admit was true. A reality that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for and now, two thousand years later, despite constant attempts to dispel it, is still burgeoning and being proclaimed throughout the world...