Jesus appears within closed doors and the disciples fear.
Have you ever had your home broken into? It’s happened to me three times, twice in Vancouver and once, shortly after moving to Moose Jaw. The first 2 times, I had all my C.D. stolen – they were worth something back then, and once I had my bike stolen. In Moose Jaw, they were looking for money and alcohol, neither of which I have so nothing was taken. Unfortunately, the back door I had just installed was damaged and beyond the theft is the idea that someone I don’t know has been in my home – it’s an invasion of privacy and a theft of my own feelings of security. I really don’t want strangers rooting through my drawers.
In today’s reading, we have another story of someone entering a home unauthorized. He got in past the locked door and he was indeed a convicted criminal. In this case though, it wasn’t someone looking for goods to pawn but instead, a break in to re-connect with some old friends.
Here we have the remaining eleven disciples hiding away. They’re likely mourning the death of Jesus but also trying to regroup. They’re likely confused about what’s happened – sure Jesus said that he’d be arrested and killed but they maybe didn’t take this seriously or thought he was once again speaking metaphorically. Then there’s the story from Mary that Jesus had appeared outside the tomb that was supposed to contain his dead body. Were they going to continue the work Jesus had started? Were they going to take the safe route and go back to their lives and pretend they’d never met Jesus? They’d given up everything in order to follow Jesus, but now he was gone, along with all they were counting on in their future.
Then something happens. All of a sudden, Jesus is standing amongst them. John is quite clear in saying that the doors are locked so this isn’t just a matter of Jesus knocking and being let in. This is not the Jesus that walked and talked with them during his ministry – everything in their lives has changed and so has Jesus.
How would you react if Jesus suddenly appeared in the choir loft. I think most of us would be in shock. Some of you would be trying to get my attention and pointing, “he’s here!” I’d of course have to stop talking because there’s no way I could handle the pressure of preaching with Jesus here – how am I supposed to react when I say something and Jesus shakes his head!
So here we have Jesus breaking into this home. It’s clearly not a forced entry and I don’t think anyone’s going to call the police – I think the disciples are far more interested in keeping a low profile; Jesus has been killed and I’ll bet they’re thinking that their lives are in danger as well – it does after all say that they were hiding from the Jews.
As I’ve said before, Jewish people are not the villains of this story and so I’ve often wondered if this is just John’s bias showing up. John and his followers were having a feud with the Jewish population when he wrote this Gospel. By this time, the Romans had crushed a Jewish uprising and destroyed their temple. Now, the Romans were on a close watch for any sign of more trouble – they’d leave the Jews alone as long as they were all on their best behaviour. This is why John was seen as a threat – they were followers of a known rebel. John was likely banished from his synagogue and was therefore under suspicion. At the very least, he and his followers could have been arrested for being atheists. This is why John often seems harsh against the Jews.
Still though, that doesn’t mean that the disciples weren’t hiding from the Jews. Jesus’ murder was a crime that had nothing to do with nationality of religion – he was a threat to the status quo. But throughout history, people have sought out scapegoats to turn complex problems into a simple matter of finding someone to blame. Jews have tragically had this happen in recent history, so why not back then as well. Maybe the disciples really did irrationally believe that Jews were the enemy. But then Jesus breaks in.
When I say that, I am of course not putting Jesus in the same camp as petty thieves stealing my bike. There is of course, no malice involved in Jesus showing up uninvited. Still though, how would you react? Imagine someone breaks into your home and cleans it. Maybe a gang picks your lock and repaints your kitchen in tasteful earth tones and gives you new drapes to match. Sure, the new paint is nice but it’s still a bit of an invasion, you’d still feel like some of your security had been lost.
The disciples are hiding behind their walls and locked doors, trying to keep out their suspected enemy, the ones they think they have to fear but then comes Jesus, who is ironically, a Jew. Jesus however breaks into not only their home but also their fear and leads them away from it. Twice he wishes them peace – to be at peace is to be without fear. It may have taken a while, but this huddled mass of fear did eventually turn into the leaders of the church.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of fearing a group of people – xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and scapegoating are still a large part of our world. Politicians have often tried to convince people that they are the only ones that can protect you from the enemy of the month. This is all too clear in the U.S. right now. No matter the problem, whether it’s unemployment or corruption, there’s a group of people from a different religion or nationality sexual orientation or skin colour to blame.
But then Jesus breaks in and it is an intrusion. Jesus breaks in and it is a disruption of what we know. Jesus breaks in and we lose our comfort. We can no longer use fear to isolate and blame another. We can no longer hide behind our walls content with the illusion that if we can just divide us from them, everything will be fine. Jesus breaks in and reminds us that for us to stop being afraid, we’re just going to have to get busy and make this a world where fear has no place.
It’s unfortunate but Thomas has ended up on the wrong side of this story because he was the one who showed doubt rather than faith but doubt is not the opposite of faith, it’s a way to exercise it, faith and doubt go hand in hand. If we want to look for the opposite of faith, it could very well be fear – when we fear, we’re not trusting in God and God’s creation. When we fear, we divide God’s people in ways that we were never meant to be divided. When we fear, we join in with the disciples who hid behind closed door for fear of the Jews rather than going out into the world declaring the Gospel, the good news that we are all loved by God and that the more we love each other, the more we will know God.
Let Jesus break into your comfortable fears and lead you to faith. The Christ you don’t recognize could show up right here beside you and may even look like one who you should fear but no, fear not – Christ is here to guide you to life beyond the walls, beyond the stone blocking the tomb of our fears.