Matthew’s account of the burial and resurrection of Jesus provides some insight into the thought process of the Jewish religious leaders. In the midst of other details about the events, Matthew pulls back the curtain to reveal the elaborate coverup devised by the chief priests and elders. The coverup begins in chapter 27, during the death and burial of Jesus. After Jesus is placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, the Pharisees and chief priests petition Pilate to guard the tomb to keep Jesus’s followers from stealing his body. They were trying to prevent further deception of the masses; a fake resurrection. Pilate agrees to the petition, and both seals the tomb and places a soldier to stand as guard. Later, in chapter 28, after the resurrection of Jesus, with the story of the earthquake and the angels, Matthew records the report of the guard. But, the chief priests and the elders refuse to believe and instead spread a rumor that Jesus’s body was stolen by the disciples, the very thing they were trying to prevent. They even pay the guard a large sum of money to keep him quiet and to help perpetuate the lie. The lie is so convincing that Matthew says the story is still being shared among some today, possibly decades after the resurrection.
It is an amazing story because it demonstrates to what great lengths the religious leaders would go to deny the truth of what had just taken place. It seems obvious why so much of Jesus’s frustrations seem to be aimed at the chief priests and Pharisees. These were the religious leaders who should have been able to understand and interpret the scriptures in such a way that would draw people to God. Yet, these very ones, who should have most recognized Jesus, seemed most determined to deny him. Time and time again they would see the signs and hear the witnesses and yet refuse to believe. During the crucifixion, when others like the soldiers began to recognize that Jesus was a righteous man, the leaders maintained their disbelief. Even with the truth of the empty tomb, after all that they had tried to do to stop it, their hearts were so hard that they still would not believe in Jesus.
It seems amazing that they could deny the obvious truth about Jesus. It seems almost impossible that one would hold onto their beliefs so strongly, even in the face what seems to be irrefutable evidence. How can one continue to deny God?
Now, I must admit, it’s easy to point fingers at the religious leaders and lament their unbelief. It’s easy to question how they could be so hard-hearted, so closed-minded, so blind. It’s easy to wonder how they could fail to see the obvious truth.
But then I wonder, am I just as blind? How often does God continue to show God’s power and I fail to see it, or fail to give God the credit? How often do my understandings of theology and how God works blind me to a God who can work beyond my wildest imagination? How adamant have I been at times to argue my point when others feel that the truth seems so plain; wondering why I can’t see it? When am I in danger of failing to admit the obvious work of God and instead come up with some strange scientific way to try to explain why something did or did not happen?
Maybe part of the reason Matthew reveals this cover-up scheme is not to place more blame on the Jewish authorities but to use the authorities to open a window into our own lives. We would never recognize the blind spots in our own lives, but maybe through telling a story about characters who don’t see the obvious we might begin to wrestle with our own issues and faults. Maybe, we might begin to see more clearly the God who is constantly working all around us and give God the credit for what God is doing. Maybe, through the stories of others, we might be changed and become better witnesses of God, willing to declare all that we see and experience.