Redeeming Confusion

Redeeming Confusion

Third Sunday of Easter (B)  |  Fr Benjamin Earl urges us to rejoice in our con-fusion that is found in Christ and our faith in him. 

The Easter season coincides with the “home straight” of the academic year, which means that many students in schools, colleges and universities will shortly be facing examinations. Probably at some point those preparing for exams will experience confusion as they seek to order their thoughts and their studies. Part of a revision process is about making connections between the various things we have studied; but we all mix things up from time to time, and as we fit the different pieces of the jigsaw together we might occasionally get the wrong piece. We hope, of course, it will look much better as the jigsaw nears completion.

Among those who have more reason to worry about confusion are those studying law, because “confusion” has a technical legal meaning. This is most easily explained with an example. If one company rents a building from another, then the two companies have mutual rights and obligations in virtue of the lease, a contract between the two entities. If one company fails in its obligations, the other can sue in court. But if the two companies later merge into one, their mutual rights and obligations come to an end through what is called “confusion”. The two parties to the contract have fused together: they are “con-fused”. The obligation to pay rent, and the right to collect it, both disappear; and obviously it would be nonsense for the merged company to try to sue itself.

Those who do not have an impending law exam might wonder why I mention this legal technicality. The short answer is that the scriptures today are full of the terminology and imagery of legal processes. And there is much confusion.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter today is speaking of the actual legal process by which Christ was condemned. Jesus was the accused, the people the accusers and Pilate the judge. But now he has been raised, and the disciples are witnesses to that.

But in the first letter of St John, things are different. The legal language is figurative this time; we are the accused – indeed the guilty ones; Jesus is now our advocate, our barrister, our defence counsel. More than that, he takes our sins away: not just providing an alibi, but a cure for our sins, both pardon and effective rehabilitation.

In the gospel it is different again. Jesus appears to the disciples and asks them to act as judge. He shows them his hands and feet, he eats fish before their eyes, and asks them to believe, to judge, that he is truly risen in the flesh. And having convinced them, he sends them out as witnesses again. I say “them”, but of course we too are included among those disciples who are to judge and bear witness.

So we are, with the people of Israel, accusers of Christ; we are accused as sinners with him; we are called upon to judge him; and we are witnesses to his resurrection. It is all very confusing.

But confusion can help. Charles Dickens’ Bleak House has as its background the generations-long Chancery case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce: a family dispute over a will which ended decade after the death of the testator only when the inheritance had been exhausted on legal fees. If only there had been confusion: if the two branches had been united in a single heir, then the ridiculous state of affairs would be ended.

Humanity’s situation is no less ridiculous: we turn against our Father, creator and sustainer, the one who loves us. We commit sin which is destructive of all that we are. And yet we carry on the hand-wringing and the self-justification until our lives are wasted.

But with Christ’s death and resurrection we are rescued. We are at once accused and accuser; our defender and advocate is also our judge; and we are witnesses to the fact that sin and death have been overcome.  Persistence in the action is utterly pointless. There is no need to quibble over blame; in Christ’s death and resurrection our fault has become a moot point.

So leave behind sin, and all its snares. Rejoice in the resurrection. Rejoice in our confusion. Rejoice that we still have the inheritance of the kingdom. And if there is one legal role which must continue, let it be that of witnessing to the joyful confusion that is the Christian faith.

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19  |  1 John 2:1-5  |  Luke 24:35-48

Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a panel from the choir screen of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Fr Benjamin Earl is Procurator General of the Order of Preachers, responsible for representing the Order to the Holy See and for canonical issues in the Order's General Curia