I recently came across a rather interesting social experiment that was recorded on video which was created by Unicef last year to bring help to children living in poverty to live a better life. It showed how adults treated an apparently homeless girl differently, depending on how she was dressed.
The first part of the experiment saw the 6-year-old girl neatly dressed but alone, looking somewhat lost. Within minutes, passers approached her who enquired if they could help her.
The next part of the experiment saw this same child dressed and made up to look like a homeless person, no longer in decent and clean clothing. Looking scruffy and like a vagrant, she was now ignored by passers by, and when she entered a café, one customer even told the café employees to remove this child from its premises.
Apparently, the child was very traumatized by the experiment and it had to be stopped midway as she was too shaken by what she went through.
The post resurrection events that are depicted in the Gospels give us very sketchy details about how the resurrected Lord actually looked like. His qualities are more telling than how he physically appeared. In many of the appearances, we are told about what the resurrected Lord did. In quite a few of them, we are told that he either ate something or prepared something for others to eat. Though he was the same person, he was also not immediately recognized.
Scripture scholars have long since speculated on the nature of the resurrected Jesus. Being able to walk through closed doors could allude to the possibility that the resurrected Lord has no physical body, but only pure spirit. However, he is often depicted doing a very physically human thing as well – eating, as well as offering food to those he showed himself to. Not only that, we are very clearly told that he still bears the scars and the wounds that had caused him his death.
Mark’s gospel articulates that he showed himself “under another form”.
Why this subterfuge? Is Jesus trying to play a game with his disciples? Is there a point to all this appearances in different forms? If so, what could it be?
The Gospel is called the Good News for a whole host of reasons. The primary one is that we are loved and saved not on our own merits and skill sets, but because our God is a god of love and mercy. That he had desired to save us by taking on the sins of the world is something that is so beautiful and deep is also something that is a mystery in itself.
But there are multifarious dimensions to the Gospel being good. In relation to the post resurrection appearances of Jesus, there is a hidden goodness as well to the way Jesus seems to go about undetected as he stands among the crowds who had previously known about him. He is not confined to any particular form but his essence is still the same. To the many whom he allowed to recognize him, it became a continual opportunity for conversion, as we are told that the many who did see him were “added to the number”.
The Christian life constantly keeps one on our toes and alert to the ways in which God is revealing himself to us as well. In this way, the Christian life is dynamic. Each encounter with another human being ought to be seen as an opportunity to see some dimension of Christ, and the way that St Theresa of Calcutta reached out to the sick and the most impoverished often had her saying that she saw Christ in them. This becomes the daily challenge of the Christian life.
If we are indeed Easter people, our eyes then have one shared requirement – to see beyond the physical. Our prejudices and biased opinions and judgments of others are often the first and largest obstacles from being able to see that at the heart of each person is an essence and a dignity that is godly. Appearances are often deceiving, and as the saying goes, even salt can look like sugar.
In most experiments, there should always be a “control”. Controls ensure that the effects of variables are minimized other than the independent variable itself. To do so increases the results to be seen as reliable. It was a pity that the Unicef social experiment didn’t have such a control. What would a control in such an experiment be like? I would conjecture that it would be the same girl, dressed differently on both occasions, encountering a blind person. If he or she had the same kind of concern, compassion and charity to the girl regardless of her appearance, it would reveal something remarkable and beautiful – that at the heart of our biasedness and prejudice, we have very faulty visions.