Resurrection accounts

Question: Why do some of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection say three women went to the tomb and others say only one? There also seem to be other differences that I can’t recall. If these contradictions are real, how can I deal with them?  

Ben Acton, via email 

Answer: The Resurrection accounts in the Gospels do have some differences in detail. How many women went out to the tomb that morning, one (Jn 20:11), two (Mt 28:1) or three (Mk 16:1)? How many angels did they see that morning, one (Mt 28:2; Mk 16:5) or two (Lk 24:4; Jn 20:12)? Did the women run to the disciples and tell what they had seen (Mt 28:8; Lk 24:9) or did they say nothing out of fear (Mk 16:8)? Did Jesus see them first in Galilee (Mk 16:7; Mt 28:10) or in Jerusalem (Lk 24:36)? Among the Apostles, did he appear to Peter first (Lk 24:34), all 11 at once (Mt. 28:16), or the 11 minus Thomas (Jn 20:24)? Did Jesus appear to them in a room (Jn 20:19) or a mountaintop (Mt 28:16)? Lastly, did Jesus ascend on Easter Sunday (Lk 24:50-53; Mk 16:19) or 40 days later (Acts 1:3,9)? 

Most of these apparent discrepancies are not actual conflicts upon closer examination and are easily explained. We cannot look at them all in a short column. But as to your specific question, it would seem most likely that several women went out that morning. That John only focuses on Mary Magdalene is not a denial that others were there. Matthew and Mark, in saying two or three, may not be engaging in a head count per se, but engaging in generalization, such as when we say words like couple or several. 

Even today, eyewitnesses often emphasize certain details and have different recollections. This does not mean the event did not happen or that unmentioned details by one person are in conflict with details mentioned by another. Given the many people who saw Jesus, we should not be surprised to find differences. The differences actually lend credibility to the Gospel accounts, which do not try to paper over them, but realistically report them (See Catechism Nos. 642-643).

Acting limitations

Question: Can Catholic actors accept roles that require of them nudity and enacting illicit sexual union on screen or stage?  

Bill Bandle, Manchester, Mo.

Answer: As general rule, no. To do this is to engage in scandal wherein one gives temptation to others, and contributes the lowering of moral standards. It is wrong to celebrate or encourage immoral activities. 

There is, however, the fact that movies and drama do comment on life and the human condition, which includes violence, treachery, corruption, sexual sins and so forth. To treat of these matters in drama is not per se wrong. What is wrong is celebrating such sinfulness or seeking to justify and normalize it. 

Even more erroneous is to unnecessarily display what should not be seen. For example, to include a murder in a movie does not require us to watch a person brutally killed and dismembered. Likewise, to report a sexual infidelity does not require us to watch it pornographically portrayed. Subtlety and discretion are required to treat of topics like these. 

So, Catholics actors should not transgress when sin is either celebrated or inappropriately displayed. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.