Differing accounts

Question: In Bible study I learned that Matthew and Mark do not even mention Jesus appearing in Jerusalem (as John and Luke do), and have the angels instructing the brethren to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus. This seems like a major discrepancy. Did Jesus appear in Jerusalem or not?

Name withheld, via email

Answer: Yes, he did. To not mention something is not to deny it happened. Consider, for example, if someone would ask you to recount your summer vacation; you might not include every single detail in your reply.

Perhaps for the sake of brevity you will omit some aspects of the vacation. Further, you might choose to include or exclude certain details based on the audience or person you are addressing. This is just a nature of human interaction, and there is nothing necessarily dishonest or problematic about it.

Thus, for theological and pastoral reasons, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John treat different aspects of the resurrection stories differently. Luke and John recount the Jerusalem appearances as well as others, while Matthew and Mark skip right to the Galilean appearances. Perhaps they do this to keep things brief, or perhaps they know most readers have already heard other recountings from other sources. Perhaps Matthew and Mark use the Galilean appearances in order to use Galilee as a symbol of heaven or as a return to where the disciples were first called.

As for the instruction of the angel to the women that the brethren should go to Galilee where they will see him, here too, Matthew and Mark are likely truncating longer instructions by the angel. And they do this, likely, for the sake of brevity and to draw our attention immediately to Galilee where they choose to focus the recollections.

Rather than destroying the credibility of the resurrection accounts, such differences actually serve to underscore the credibility. It is clear through the variations and selection of material there were no attempts to control the message. Rather, the ordinary modes of communication are retained as people joyfully recount the events.

Human and divine

Question: Jesus tells Mary Magdalene in one of the resurrection appearances, “I am going ... to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17). This has always confused me, because I thought Jesus is God.

Mary Taylor, Sarasota, Fla.

Answer: Yes, Jesus is God. But Jesus is also one person with two natures, divine and human. When he speaks of “ascending to my God,” he does so in terms of his human nature. As God, he cannot ascend to God, there is nowhere for him to go. But in terms of his humanity, he can use expressions such as “my God,” and he has the capacity to ascend.

It is important to realize that the resurrection accounts place heavy emphasis on Jesus’ human nature. For it does not pertain to Jesus’ divine nature to rise from the dead, since God cannot die. Only as man can he rise from the dead.

Not only is his human nature raised up, but it is transformed. We speak of his resurrected humanity as a glorified humanity — and in this sense he is ascending. That is, he is taking up his glorified human nature to dwell forever at the Father’s right hand. 

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.