Litotes to the Max
Of poetic devices, litotes tends to fly under the radar since it is understatement. Used outside of poetry, litotes makes its modest point most often by negating the contrary, which sounds a lot like sarcasm. Examples: It wasn’t his best performance. She’s not exactly a shrinking violet.
Litotes, purely as understatement, applies to the Resurrection. Consider this: The only people we know who were present at the site of the Resurrection were pagan guards who found it better to pursue pecuniary advantages by agreeing to lie than to witness to an astonishing truth.
We don’t know what the guards saw. It seems that pictures I have seen have them being knocked off their feet, falling backwards as Christ emerges from the tomb, as if they were struck by some great force connected with the Resurrection. Perhaps, but it also seems as likely that whatever external phenomena might have accompanied Jesus’ act of Resurrection, could have been fully contained within the tomb hewn out of rock and sealed with a big stone, and therefore completely hidden from human eyes or in any other way accessible to the human senses. The guards may have seen the rock that gated the tomb move, and Jesus emerge, but that would be after the fact of His body rising from death.
Here we have the event beyond all events, the very crux of our human existence and destiny contained within it, and our Lord chooses to have it happen in obscurity. He was publicly scourged and condemned; degradingly mocked with a crown of thorns; carried His cross through crowded, narrow streets; hung in crucifixion openly for those who passed by to taunt and died in front of those who wanted to watch. His bitter passion was open and evident. His glorious triumph hidden and secret.
Our Lord chose to have the evidence left behind to be enough to convince — a blood stained shroud and a head wrapping neatly folded within the dark tomb. Peter saw and believed. The physical glory of Easter is reduced to linen cloths, and yet Peter believes.
Even the angels seem subdued. There is no triumphant chorus of the heavenly hosts singing “Glory to God in the highest”. There is just the simple question, “Why do you look for the living one among the dead?”
Jesus’ later physical appearances do demonstrate some remarkable characteristics of a risen Man, but even within this He seems more interested in demonstrating His common humanness – that He can eat, can drink, can be touched, can speak words of peace. He leaves hearts burning within; prompts a declaration of His divinity and lordship and excites a short dash to the shore through the shallow waters of a sea. But how does He do these? By explaining Old Testament Scriptures; by showing His still open wounds; by simply being. His cooking of fish stands out among the post-Resurrection events.
What are we to take from this? I think that we might do well to look to Pope Francis to see. His bowing before the multitudes in St. Peter’s Square who became silent in prayer to the Heavenly Father upon his request, and his refusal to take advantage of his papal position, rejecting its perks for more simple living, are examples that teach.
Maybe it is in his Maundy Thursday washing of the feet of prisoners, drying them and then kissing them – even a tattooed foot – that we are taught the most. Of course, the unusual will have its critics who would have scorned Jesus for letting a woman wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. And even those who praise may well do so because of some false interpretation that they read into the Pope’s actions.
I think that Pope Francis’ radical simplicity and his unconcern about what the elite think of how things should be, will pierce the hearts and lay bare the thoughts of many. Hopefully, his actions will bring us to the feet of Jesus, the feet of the resurrected Lord whose visible wounds are still present, where we may learn what true service means, and what the Resurrection lived out in us has to offer to the world.
We may not knock anyone of his feet with our power and our glory, but we may well find ourselves kissing a foot, even a tattooed foot, of the very person that Jesus wants to love through our actions – our understated actions of true service to our King.
If we find it less than we expect, if we find our actions seem to have the quality akin to understatement and if we find ourselves doing nothing of greatness, we may well find ourselves following in the footsteps of Our Resurrected Lord.
Jezu, ufam Tobie.