“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said’ . . . So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matt 28:1-6, 8)With fear and great joy. In Mark, the women were simply scared. This time they have a mix of fear and joy.
A key point here is that in Matthew, there are guards. Mary and Mary can see that the guards are scared stiff. If the Roman guards are scared, then this white-clad guy is evidently not, himself, a Roman agent. So the political repression fear that was predominant in Mark is mitigated in Matthew.
Just as the two Marys are leaving the tomb, they encounter Jesus, and he speaks to them briefly:
“Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to then, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." (28: 9-10)Some of Jerusalem's rulers catch wind of the news that Jesus' body has gone missing. They concoct a story, which they bribe the guards to affirm, that some of Jesus' followers came in the middle of the night and took the body away. Only in Matthew do we get this strange little story about bribing the guards to say,
“His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” (28:13)Maybe that’s exactly what did happen, and the Matthew storyteller is trying to discredit that by attributing it to the lies of bribed guards. Still, overall, Matthew’s fundamental optimism is much clearer than in Mark.
In “The Gospel According to Luke,” a whole group of women go to the tomb. Luke doesn’t say exactly how many. The group includes Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Joanna, and the rest of the women who were close followers of Jesus. As in Mark, there is mention of spices and ointments for preparing the body, but they can’t do that until Sunday, after the Sabbath. Also as in Mark, when they get to the tomb, it is already open.
“They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’” (Luke 24: 2-5)The women are terrified, just as in Mark – and there’s no mention of that fear being mixed with joy as in Matthew.
Then the Luke story goes its own way. The women, perhaps because there are more of them and they are able to borrow courage from each other, rise above their fear.
“Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” (24: 8-9)In Mark, the women never tell the disciples. In Matthew and John, the women tell the disciples and are instantly believed. But in Luke, we read:
“Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (24: 10-11)Only Peter believes the women. He checks it out himself, but apparently he says nothing to the other ten. The other
“men refused to believe the story until two of the men happened to be walking to another village, and suddenly there is Jesus walking along with them, except they don’t recognize him. They get into this long conversation with Jesus, and finally Jesus says, Hey guys, you idiots, it’s me. Finally, the men believe, and they go back and tell the other men, who finally believe what the women have told them.” (Dan Harper)The Luke story has no sense of the ongoing repression that was so prominent in Mark and was, to a lesser extent, present in Matthew. It was politically dangerous to be a follower of Jesus, but you couldn’t tell that from Luke. What you can tell in Luke, is that the women understood, and the men were slow on the uptake.
Next: John . . . and you.
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This is part 3 of 5 of "The Meadow for Metaphor"
Part 1: Four Easter Stories
Part 2: Who Have You Buried?
Part 4: You are Mary
Part 5: True Stories