Fear can cause many imaginary threats. Children are afraid of the “bogey-man.” Many people are afraid to go out alone at night. In the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31), some of the disciples were so afraid that they locked the doors in the room where they were staying.
If truth be told, they were close friends of Jesus, and Jesus had recently been killed. They didn’t know what to expect. All of a sudden, the risen Jesus had confronted them with his presence in spite of the locked doors. No doubt, they were “spooked.” They didn’t know what to make of the situation.
But to demonstrate that it was not a vision they were seeing, he showed them his hands and his feet. This post-resurrection Jesus was the same individual they had known–the pre-resurrection Jesus. The biblical text tells us that the disciples were overjoyed, and later expressed that joy in dealing with the public through their preaching. What had happened to bring this about?
In the first part of this Gospel reading, I would like to make two suggestions that might try to deal with the “what.” Namely, Jesus greeting the disciples with the greeting of peace. Also, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples which will give them the energy to proclaim Jesus effectively.
First of all, Jesus greets his diciples with the phrase “Peace be with you.” The Greek word is EIRENE which is virtually equivalent to theHebrew word for “peace,” namely, SHALOM. The Hebrew word does not mean the absence of conflict, but the presence of goodness. That is, the “goodness” brought about by Jesus, such as dignity, respect, and fairness.
In fact, other languages appear to be entrusting the other person to God by way of saying farewell. Spanish says “A-Dios” (to God I entrust you). In English when we say “Goodbye,” we are using the very shortened form of “God be with you.” Am sure there are other examples in other languages as well.
Secondly, when Jesus breathed upon the disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit, I strongly suspect that this brought to the mind of readers the section in Genesis when God breathed life into Adam and gave him life. There was an ancient belief that when a holy person breathed upon someone else, something special was passed on.
Regarding the phrase the “Holy Spirit” we understand that we talking about “breath” (God’s life giving force.) In fact, it would seem to me that a better translation of “Holy Spirit”to be “the creative power of God.” In fact, we see the first chapter of Genesis where the text speaks of power of God creating the world. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind (Hebrew=RUAH=wind, spirit, power) swept over the face of the waters.” Gen. 1:1-2 RSV). Creation followed.
The disciple Thomas did not believe the other disciples’ joy at having seen Jesus unless he himself saw and touched the post-resurrection Jesus himself. Jesus came a week later and told Thomas to see and touch him so the his faith may be complete. “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'” (Jn. 20:29) Focus was on the notion of BELIEF–in Jesus and in his ministry.
We can learn some things from this section of the Gospel. First, that we wish PEACE to others be bringing about goodness, for example, justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.
Second, we live because we breathe. We would do well to accept the fact that the HOLY SPIRIT is the “creative power of God” breathed into us at the time of our Baptism infusing us the power to do good to others.
Thirdly, BELIEF in Jesus remains a timely challenge, primarily because there are so many temptations today. Thomas had to see and touch before he would believe. It seems to me that the greatest challenge is to see Jesus in others, especially those disenfranchised by society. Seeing Jesus in others and treating them correspondingly well, would be a way to receive that “blessing” that Jesus offered to us in the confrontation with Thomas.
In fact, the ability to grant peace, the awareness of the prensence of the Holy Spirit via our Baptism, and the growth of our belief system, are great giftes that we have received from the risen Christ.