Afraid and I don’t blame them

Published 6:20 pm Sunday, April 23, 2023

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One of the things that responsible, educated preachers are learning to pay attention to is to tell the stories especially of Jesus without being unfair to the Jews. Let me be more clear: there is a line we can step over in telling or editorializing about what happened with Jesus and his followers that is downright antisemitic.

I try to work hard to stay aware and be mindful of that line. There are crazy extremists who claim our faith, just like all the other world religions that people try to get you to be terrified of. Us playing into their prejudices and biases, like antisemitism of the Jews, can only help perpetuate the problem. 

Violence and discrimination against a group like Jews is not only wrong, it is a classic example of the danger of the always treacherous intersection – of religious fervor and pure, chosen ignorance. But there are stories like the one in John 20: 19-31, in our scripture, where Jesus’ followers were just plain afraid, and I don’t blame them. 

For instance, I will say accurately and most importantly that humanity killed Jesus. That is the truth we all need to own. I believe that to the depths of my soul. But, that doesn’t allow me to ignore John’s honesty here that his own ethnic and religious leaders were the ones who, at that moment in time, had it out for the Jesus followers of his day. 

That is, John is pointing the finger at his own people as the specific ones who were threatening and perpetuating violence against Christians at that moment. We know that not much later in history, Rome would turn its might against the Jews and come into Jerusalem with violent force against them. But in this moment, Rome had washed its hands with regard to Jesus and his followers. 

New Testament scholar Joy Moore says, “The one thing they had longed for had been squashed by the execution of the one they had come to see as the promised Messiah. Now on this side of the cross, there were rumors upon rumors.” 

There was talk about an Easter miracle. But, everyone’s heads were spinning with this odd mixture of grief, fear and rumors. No one could be sure about anything just yet. The Disciples met in a locked room, secretly, for every understandable reason. 

Then, we introduce a late-arriving Thomas into the whole fray. We read this story and think we know him from somewhere. I’m not just talking about how he can sometimes be read as the group cynic. Not only is Thomas a little late to the party, he is strongly opinionated. 

There are also forces at work in our culture, indeed in our world, who if you give them access will create and perpetuate things for you to be afraid of so that they can have the power over you that fear generates. We don’t need the extraneous fears that predators and ambitious people create to be heaped on top of the real things that happen.

Into that moment where Thomas had just expressed his doubts, through a closed and locked door, Jesus walks. He says two amazing things, considering the moment. First, he bids them “peace.” In the Greek, that word didn’t mean the same thing that it did in Hebrew. Here, this word means “the peace of the world” or a peace within their own consciences and hearts.

This was a peace that among other things, offered them healing for their wounded consciences and banged up courage. But next, he says that even as the Father has sent him he is still intending to send them.

Jesus still saw a future for them. This fearful group wondered if there was a future, still. Jesus went straight to that fear and told them he still placed a calling, a purpose, upon their lives. 

This is powerful in its implications for you and me as Christ-followers, because we know moments when we may not see a future for ourselves. Jesus saw past the pain and fear of the moment. The Disciples were afraid and I don’t blame them. 

But just like Thomas and the others, we have to be willing to show up. We have to be willing to place ourselves in his care. We have to find a part within us that chooses to believe. When touched by the risen Christ, there is an extraordinary energy from the eternal God. This is what Jesus breathed into his disciples.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.