“When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After this, he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. They returned and told the others, but they did not believe them either.” Mark 16: 11-13

These days, Times Square in New York City is a far cry from what it used to be. Gone are the hustlers, hucksters, peep shows, prostitutes, panhandlers, beggars, and X-rated movie theaters and adult video emporiums. In their place now, there is a 42nd Street ablaze with lights and hi-tech advertisements, tourist-friendly shops and an overall sense of a huge Disneyland.

The place that was once considered by many New Yorkers as being the closest thing to hell on earth has been transformed into what the same New Yorkers may feel to be the closest thing to a little Paradise this side of the Gates of Eden.

I recently watched a documentary called “The Gods of Times Square.” Richard Sandler, the man who made the film, strolled about 42nd Street with his video camera, interviewing people, asking them about their
beliefs, their hopes, their lives. He made the film in the 1970’s, prior to the massive changes that would take place a decade or so later.

He encountered a man who thought he was the resurrected Jesus and had a pleasant chat with him.

There was another guy who believed that he was reincarnated into different bodies several times a week.

There was a woman who said she was a man but was more at home as a woman.

And there was an array of soap box preachers, men, and women, who warned about the end of everything and the need to embrace Jesus as Savior.

And there was a guy who seemed to be intimately familiar with the insights of Einstein and the complexities of modern-day physics.

Hare Krishna disciples strolled about, chanting and ringing little bells.

The few lines from the gospel above tell us that Jesus appeared in different forms and those people who knew him as he was were unable to see him in his resurrected appearance or outright refused to believe
that he had arisen.

Times Square used to be a fascinating place, but I am sorry that the city officials cleaned it up.  It may have been a haven for unsavory characters and an eyesore to those who need cleanliness, purity and the like.  But to my way of thinking, the street teemed with life back in the days and inspired no small number of playwrights, artists, novelists, and musicians.  I admit that as I watched the film, I found within

I admit that as I watched the film, I found myself feeling a strong tendency to write off all the characters as deranged oddballs. Pope Francis’s words came to mind – “Who am I to judge?”  And I sense that the Pope has learned to see the goodness in everyone, especially the poor and those whose life stories are very different from our own cherished narratives.

Amidst all the glitz that is 42nd Street these days, there is the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum.  On the sidewalk in front of it is a  life-sized figure of the Pope.  He has a smile on his face, a very welcoming one.  Tourists are delighted with it and crowd around it and take “selfies.”  In the digital photos, you would swear that it is the real thing, that the Pope is right there greeting and posing with tourists in front of the Museum.

And I watched the documentary, “The Gods of Times Square,” I was tempted to believe in the presence and goodness of the risen Jesus in the lives and voices of those who paraded across the screen. But I hope the Manhattan powers-that-be are happy with the new Times Square, with its lights, its family friendly atmosphere.

But I wonder. When they succeeded in eliminating what they thought to be hell from mid-town Manhattan, did they remove as well something vaguely reminiscent of why Jesus came, and maybe why he appeared – and still appears – in different forms to each of us.