Why were the disciples afraid?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 20:19-31  

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

In our reading today there are many things that deserve our attention. One of the most important is that on Sunday evening, the first day of the week, we are told that the disciples were hiding in a secure room behind closed doors. Why was it that they hid? For fear of the Jews.

If one were to say such a thing today he might be labelled as an anti-semite but this incredible statement is made by one of the disciples who was there at the time and he was also a Jew. Why did the disciples have fear of the Jews? Because they had just seen what happened to their beloved leader Jesus. If such a vicious, illegal, unjust attack could take place on a wonderful prophet like Jesus, then it was no stretch of the imagination to think that the Jewish authorities could do the same to the followers of Jesus. But the disciples did not yet have any idea about what had truly happened.

They were still living in the old world. For the disciples, death was still death. Fear was still fear. Despair was still despair. When someone asks you about the resurrection I would gently point them to this passage. The disciples, grown men, were in fear. How does it happen that such frightened men, such cowards, become brave as lions? How do such timid people, become bold? It takes only common sense and a small amount of logic to fill in the blanks.

Our Lord Jesus Christ promised the disciples that He would not leave them orphaned, and He kept His word. The appearance of the master changed everything. The disciples eyes were opened to a completely new world. In this new world, death was a minor point. Fear vanished and hope flourished. After seeing the crucifixion and death of their Lord, they now witnessed His resurrection. The one who had layed down His life for His friends, took it up again.

We have to understand that this is the reality by which we now live. The disciples understood this through physical contact with the Lord. They became bold and they travelled all over the world preaching the good news and baptizing new believers. They changed the world because Christ had changed them.

What about us? We don’t see the physical body of the Lord, but the Lord told Thomas that those who believed without seeing would be blessed. I think all of us believe to some extent but we have different degrees of belief. Some of us barely believe. Some of us believe in theory. Some of us have an intellectual belief, but our actions do not demonstrate belief in a risen Lord. God wants heartfelt conviction. The kind of conviction that changes your whole thought process. God wants the kind of conviction that changes your attitude and outlook on life. This isn’t an unreasonable demand, it’s a measure of God’s grace.

When we take the resurrection to heart we can begin living. We can break free of fear and despair and hopelessness. We can break free of the fear of sickness and death. We can break free of the bonds of addiction and sin. We can break free of the fear of others and their opinions. In short, the Lord’s victory over death becomes a victory of life.

When we have true belief and a living relationship with Christ, we become bold like the disciples. Since we no longer have irrational fear, we find new ways to sacrifice more. We find new ways to give more of our time and resources and talents. We find new ways to suffer more and to love more. We find new ways to preach and comfort and provide blessings to family members and coworkers and friends and ultimately even our enemies.

It would be easier for you if I simply listed a number of concrete ways, but the Holy Spirit works differently in each person. There is a sort of charismatic creativity that opens up in our lives when we are hungry to serve God and live life according to His teachings. There is a power that is available in our lives when we truly understand that the Lord is risen. When we become like Thomas and say “My Lord and My God!” we are on the right track in life. He was not ready to proclaim these bold words for the previous 3 years that he followed Our Lord. It is the resurrection that gave him boldness.

When we speak about our needs, wants, desires and hopes for ourselves we are still self centered and fearful. When our needs, wants, desires and hopes center on the Lord and the life of the Church, all of the sudden, they become precious and worth pursuing. These goals are properly attached to the anchor, Jesus Christ. When our hopes and goals and desires are attached to this anchor, they gain strength and they are not easily moved by the storms of life. These storms come in many forms….even death itself. If Christ defeated every problem of the world including death then we are no longer interested in focusing on the problems. We are interested in attaching ourselves and our lives to the solution. The solution to death is life and Jesus Christ is the life of the world.

So belief in the resurrection isn’t a casual thing. It is quite literally a matter of life and death. The Lord told the disciples to be of good cheer because He had overcome the world. May the Lord give us this victory over the world! Glory be to God forever AMEN.

2 thoughts on “Why were the disciples afraid?

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