John 20:19-31, Divine Mercy Sunday
Fear is a natural and basic human emotion. Fear plays an important role in human survival because it alerts us of impending dangers or evil, and moves us to avoidance. The science of anatomy would locate the source of this emotion inside our amygdala, a primitive part of our brain that we share with other animals. Yet, unlike animals that simply flee in the presence of a predator, with our complex brain, we also face a complex kind of fear as we perceive a complex meaning of danger. We do not only fear predators, but we fear also losing our jobs, getting sick, and facing our terror teachers or bosses. We are afraid of height (acrophobia), of small spaces (claustrophobia), and even of banana (Bananaphobia)! Because of our superior mind, our fear is even enlarged as we can anticipate faraway dangers or even those that do not yet exist. This creates anxiety and worry.
In the Gospel, we discover that Jesus’ disciples are afraid. They fear the “Jews.” They may be accused of stealing the body of Jesus by the Roman soldiers and Jewish authorities who discover the empty tomb. Or, are the disciples simply anxious about their future, of what will become of them after the death and the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Shall they disband, go back to their former lives, or shall they remain together? Will Jesus come and get even with them? Overcome by fear and uncertainty, they lock themselves in a room. They are paralyzed, their hearts shrink, and they glue themselves to safe yet fragile things. Like the disciples, fear freezes us and locks us in our comfort zone. Fearing heartbreak, we stop loving. Fearing failure, we no longer pursue our dreams. Fearing manipulation, we refuse to help others. Fearing betrayal, we shun commitments.
However, fear does not have the last say. Despite the locked room, the Lord enters in their midst. The first word He says is Peace, in Hebrew, “Shalom.” Then, Jesus shows his wounds to them, proof that He is truly Jesus, their teacher, who was crucified and now risen. Seeing the Lord, joy explodes in the disciples’ hearts, and they fear no more. Jesus’ Shalom is powerful and empowering. Jesus’ Shalom gives inner strength in the face of uncertain future. Jesus’ Shalom gives the courage to embrace sufferings and trials.
Jesus is truly risen and appears to the disciples, but this does not change the disciples’ situations. Their future remains uncertain. The hostile Jewish authorities still attempt to shut them down. The Roman soldiers may arrest them. They do not know yet how to sustain their small community. Their situations remain bleak, but one thing has changed. They are no longer afraid. With His Shalom in their hearts, Jesus breathes His Holy Spirit on them and sends them on a mission to forgive. As they have been forgiven and received mercy, they become the missionaries of peace, as they bring forgiveness to others. As the stone door of the tomb cannot stop the risen Lord, now the locked doors cannot hinder the empowered disciples.
Jesus’ Shalom is the grace of resurrection for all of us. It is true that our situations and problems do not change much, but fear can no longer freeze us. We are called to go out from our locked rooms and become the missionaries of peace and mercy. Despite the pain, failure, and frustration, we continue to love, serve and commit because this is who we are, the people who have received Jesus’ Shalom, God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit. We are not afraid because we are Easter People!
*photograph by Harry Setianto Sunaryo, SJ