“…And the doors of the house where the disciples have met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’.”
Today’s Gospel presents a very powerful image. It is an image of the human interacting with the divine, an image of fear encountering and being overwhelmed by love. We see a group of people, hiding behind locked doors, afraid of “The Jews”. A ghostly Jesus appears saying, “Peace be with you”. Were they afraid of all Jews? Weren’t they Jews? Wasn’t Jesus a Jew?
Now, I can believe they were afraid; I would be, too, if I had seen what they just witnessed. I can imagine them thinking, here was this man, this preacher, Jesus, who asked us to follow him.
We give up our livelihood, our professions and families, everything with which we are familiar and we follow him. We were convinced he was the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel who would lead us out from under the oppression of Rome. Through God’s great power, Jesus would lead the rebellion of the chosen people, utterly defeating the terrible power of the Empire and usher in the long awaited and prayed for Kingdom of God!
So, how could this happen? Was it all a lie, a mistake, a terrible cosmic joke? We saw Jesus killed: not just any death, but a terrible, shameful public death on a cross. And now we are told his body is missing! What do we do now?
Remember how the crowd turned on him, how they began to turn on us? And what of Jesus, himself? What if he is the Messiah? What if he did rise from the dead? Man, he must really be upset with us for deserting him and running away like we did. I really wouldn’t want to run into him again!
So, yes, I can understand their fear, their confusion and their anxiety. What happens now? Is it even possible to reclaim our lives? Is it really all over?
We can imagine them gathered in this room and speaking among themselves, sharing their fears and trying to reassure each other that things will be ok once all this blows over. Eventually, the conversation turns to the life they shared these past few years. Something about that life seemed so right, so good! Something really was beginning to happen, wasn’t it?
They begin to remember and share their experiences with Jesus, and how those experiences changed and re-shaped their lives. Their mood begins to change as they begin to sense, to re-discover the love Jesus had for them. And they begin to share that love with each other. Their sense of hope fills their spirits with such joy; it’s almost as if Jesus were in the room with them, sharing his peace as he has always done when they were distressed. They begin to realize that they are, indeed, sharing the presence of Jesus in their lives, and that this living, active presence of Jesus begins to empower and restore them. Their fear and anxiety begins. To diminish as they re-discover the pervasive, powerful peace they shared with Jesus. “My peace I give you.”
They begin to understand and to see that Jesus IS the Messiah, the Christ, the chosen one of God. They begin to understand that through the intervention of Jesus, the world will never be the same. As Jesus taught them, they will teach others. As they begin to see themselves as a community, they can also begin to see other new communities, no longer based on fear and power, but based on the love of God and love for each other. Communities not based on accumulating wealth and security, but on providing opportunity and acceptance, encouragement and care.
Today’s Gospel also gives us the story of Thomas. Not being in the room with the other disciples, Thomas was not convinced of the experience they shared. He just couldn’t bring himself to believe it. It doesn’t make sense. It’s naive and foolish, it’s wishful thinking! The world doesn’t work that way! It’s only after he spends time with the others, after he has the opportunity to confront and express his own fears and doubts, only after he can share God’s love with this community of disciples is he able to experience the joyful, awesome presence of the risen Jesus; “My Lord and my God!” For Thomas, this is truly an experience beyond human understanding.
Now, together, the disciples understand that, yes indeed, the Kingdom of God has begun! Jesus gives the vision and the tools, and sets the work in motion. Now, fortified with God’s peace, the disciples are able to begin their ministry anew, ready to spread the Good News of the risen Christ!
Today, many of us find ourselves locked in our rooms, our closets of fear; afraid of those who look, speak and pray differently than we do. Like Thomas, we see ourselves as individuals, apart from the community. We are told and led to believe that we live in a world of scarcity, that, as rugged individuals, we need to get more for ourselves even if it means others will not have enough. To protect what we have, we need to spend our resources on military power, on private security and. Prison industries, and on building isolated, gated communities to protect us and our wealth from those we have. Impoverished. These things cost money, so we need to get more wealth, which needs more protection, and so it grows. This twisted spiral of wealth and security produces fear and greed, and encourages the evils of sexism, racism and homophobia as means of separation and control. It promotes the intentional misuse of God’s creation. We see the results in wars fought over oil, and the taking, by force of arms or economics, the resources of other countries, consigning them to poverty to support our privileged lifestyle.
This type of thinking allows us to treat people as commodities whose only worth is how cheaply they can produce wealth for us. It leads us to pass laws and design social structure to keep “those people” in “that neighborhood”, safely removed from our sight and consideration. We see it in the fear of an individual who takes it upon himself to carry a gun and kills, because he feels threatened by a young man wearing a hooded jacket.
To begin to address these evils, we need to question the voices of fear and scarcity and to begin to accept the abundance of God’s love. To overcome the fear and isolation, we must question the beliefs which separate us, and learn to recognize and honor the presence of God’s love in each of us.
We have a picture, an idea, of God’s Kingdom. I believe we are all born with a “blueprint” of God’s desire of how that Kingdom is to be built. But, like Thomas, we are told that to believe in and to follow the example and the teachings of Jesus is naive and foolish, wishful thinking: that the world doesn’t work that way. The evil resulting from fear and separation interferes with our experience of God’s love, and rearranges our programming, causing us to question our inner blueprint. This interference is taught and imposed by others, so we cannot overcome it on our own. Like Thomas, we need others, a community of caring, to overcome our fear, to recognize and understand and to share God’s love, and to begin to love one another.
We cannot open that locked door by ourselves. We need to act, to reach out to others in spite of of our isolation, our fear, our insecurity. Yes, it seems scary and intimidating. We are going against the teachings of the Empire, entering unfamiliar territory, and there is no turning back.
But we are not alone. Relying on God’s love, and the faith that God’s love will always be there, we will experience and share the peace of the risen Jesus with each other. Then together, we will unlock and open the door, step outside our fear and, together, share in the hard, wonderful work of building God’s Kingdom.