In this beautiful homily for Easter Sunday, Father Hanly tells his favourite Resurrection story.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Acts 10:34, 37-43
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4, or First Corinthians 5:6-8
Gospel: John 20:1-9
Christ has risen, as he said. Very simple, but the phrase has changed the whole world. The world before the Resurrection is quite different than the world as we experience it now.
But you would never know this if you looked at the Gospel stories immediately after Jesus had risen, because the one word that describes all of the disciples and people who loved Jesus was “consternation.”
As you notice in this Gospel they’re running back and forth in great confusion. The women come to the grave bringing ointments in which to anoint Jesus, because, you remember, he was buried hurriedly on the Friday of his death.
And they saw that the tomb was already open, the stone rolled back.
And when they saw that, they looked, and they couldn’t see a body. And so Mary Magdalene ran back to Peter and told him that “They have taken away the Lord and we do not know where they have laid him.” And Peter ran along with John back to the tomb and they looked in and they also just saw the garments that he was buried in, but nothing else.
And then they wondered what it was, what had happened, because, as John says, they did not know what the Resurrection meant, even though he had said three times that he would rise from the dead.
The version we heard last night was the same version with one little difference. When the women came to the tomb, they actually went in, and there was a young man sitting by the clothes. And this young man said to them, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “We are looking for Jesus of Nazareth.” And he said, “He’s not here. He has risen.” But he says that “if you go to Galilee, he will see you there.”
And so it is all during this day there’s a great confusion of where he is. You notice it’s not “Has he risen?” it’s “If he has risen, where are we supposed to find him now?” Because he definitely will not be found in the same way that they had experienced him when he was alive, for he has passed through another door, the door to a different and greater reality.
“Where is the Risen Lord?” is the problem. “Where are we to find him?” And this is why they were so confused. And it took them a long time before they began to put together the great puzzle. They knew that he had risen, but had he risen for them?
I tell this…this is my favourite story on the Resurrection Day. It has nothing to do with the Resurrection at all, and probably some of you who know me well have heard this story, but you wouldn’t mind hearing the story again.
It’s a story that was taught to me by the children in Taiwan many years ago. My first mission was in Taiwan, and if you want to learn to speak Taiwanese, you have to hang around with children a lot and they tell you the stories and you put them together and it’s quite a nice learning way.
And one of their favorite stories was the story of how the peanuts came to Taiwan. Did you realize that Taiwan at one time was noted for its peanuts? And this is the way the story goes.
Many, many, many, many, many years ago, Mr. Wong, who had five brothers, and they lived in a house, they were farmers, and one day he went to the town. And in the town there was a man dressed in strange clothing. And he saw the man was selling something like little beans. So he went over to the stall and he said to him, “What are you selling?” And the man said, “Peanuts.” And he said, “Peanuts. What are peanuts?” Well, he broke one open and he says, “Here. Taste this.” So the man tasted the peanut and said, “Wow, that’s the best thing.” Mr. Wong said, “That’s the best thing I ever tasted in my life. Where do you get these?”
And then the man proceeded to tell him that he had to cross six thousand mountains and go on a great journey and leave Taiwan and it goes on and on, and it depends how long you want to listen to this story, how many of the adventures the man goes in his search for the peanuts. He’s going to go and get the peanut plants. And he’s going to bring them back and they’re all going to become rich.
But, before he went, he told his brothers that he was going on this long and treacherous journey, but he would be back and he would make them all rich, because he was going to buy the peanut plants in this distant kingdom far away.
The other thing he did was he mortgaged the whole property that they had. They were not rich men. They were just poor farmers. He mortgaged it, but they agreed, yes, he should go and get the peanuts.
Anyhow, he went on the journey and he came back with the plants. And it was springtime and he hastened to put them into the earth. And he, every morning, would get up and go out to the patch and he’d look out and he’d see … where are the peanuts?
And suddenly they began to come up, the plants, one by one, and the little area that he had planted was filled with green little plants. And he was so happy. And in the morning he’d come out again and sit there and try to gauge how fast they were growing. And, then, all of the sudden, he saw the flowers come out and he said, “Wow, this is it. We’re going to have a crop very soon.”
And then, a few days later, he went out, sat there, and he saw they began to die. All the peanut plants were dying all around him. And they finally all died. And he didn’t know what to do, because he knew that he had failed. And he couldn’t go back and face his family, his five brothers, so he stole away from the village in the growing darkness of morning and he was not heard of for another five years.
And off he went and, of course, the poor man, he had nothing left, so he became a beggar.
And when he finally got up enough courage to return home (not to be recognized, but just to see how his family was faring), he expected to see them in terrible poverty, but they weren’t.
In fact, when he got down to the edge of town and looked to where the old house was, there was a brand new house and it was beautiful. And he saw his brother standing outside on the porch in very expensive clothing. And there was a large line of beggars, and the brother was handing out help and cash to the beggars.
And he decided, “Well, nobody would recognize me now, because I look so terrible, I’ve aged so much.” So he got on the line and he came up to the front of the line and his brother looked down and he said, “Big brother, where have you been?”
And he took hold of him and brought him into the main dining room of the family, and they washed him and put new robes on him and, finally, they brought out, and they’re having, a big feast of return and welcome.
And old Mr. Wong, he says to his brothers, he says, “What happened? What happened? I left you you were penniless, you lost everything.”
And he said, “What do you mean we lost everything?” He said, “The peanuts, the peanuts, they all died.” And then the second brother said to him, “Brother, the peanuts are underground. The plants had to die in order that we would harvest the peanuts.”
And that is how peanuts came to Taiwan.
And it’s a resurrection story. Listen carefully now.
Jesus comes and he dies that we might live. We say this all the time. But what we’re really saying is, Jesus came to live as we live, to take on the burdens and the joys of our life. As St. Peter says, he went about doing good for others. And then he served us so greatly and so true and so good. And finally he had given his own life. And in dying everyone was full of sadness and sorrow, but he said he would rise again.
And when he rose again, what happened was, it was like the peanuts. He died to show them where the real richness of the lives that we are leading has really lain.
Because the world as we see it, as we perceive it, is only the bush, it is only the flowering and it is only the death.
But the world that Jesus saw, and taught his disciples to see… remember when Jesus used to walk the Earth he used to say, “You have eyes to see, but you can’t see. You have ears to hear, but they’re stopped. And you have hearts to love, but you don’t.”
And what Jesus was trying to tell them was where the real life is. The real life is not in the exteriors. It’s not in the ordinariness of our time. The real life is deep down in our hearts and soul where we’re the images of God, the heirs of heaven. We are people to be taken seriously and we are people to take each other seriously.
For it is when we realize the real life within us, the life of God, the life that can only be reached when we finally turn away from our own needs and away from our own selfishness and begin to serve each other. For it is in the service of others that we find real life.
Remember Jesus said, “He who wants to live, must lose his life. And he who wants his life to keep it, will lose it.”
Because the meaning of Jesus’s life is to be loved by God and to love each other.
And it is only when we begin to imitate our Saviour, when we begin to take the Risen Lord seriously and into our hearts, and we begin to realize that Jesus serves. “I have come to serve, not to be served. Even to the point of offering my life.”
And this is what it means when he says, “I have come to give you true life, the real life.” Not the bush that dies, but the harvest of peanuts.
And so, from this simple little story, I think you all should understand today we celebrate the way. The way is to be with self-sacrificing love. That we turn out from our own selfishness and embrace. But in order to embrace others, you must see them the way he saw them. He didn’t see the bush, he saw the whole plant. And rooted deep in the ground and half hidden from everyone was the real people that we are. The people of courage, the people of caring, the people who are willing to sacrifice for our families, for our friends, but, even, Jesus says, for everyone.
So the next time you see somebody who drives you crazy and you find it almost impossible to be with, remember the peanuts. You’re only looking at the bush and the bush is dying. But if you want to touch the richness of another human being, you have to see as Jesus sees. And in seeing as he sees, we will learn to love as he loves. And when we learn to love as he loves, the world will be changed.
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This homily was delivered on 12th April 2009.
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