John 20: 19–31
The first thing that we notice in today’s gospel is the amazing effect that the presence and words of Jesus have on his confused and frightened disciples. He finds them in hiding, completely immobilized by the terrible realization of the death of their beloved leader. He addresses them cheerfully with the standard greeting: “Peace.” Under normal circumstances, this simply means that one wishes another well. But it means far more than that when spoken by the risen Lord. The disciples feel that the world is out of control. Jesus assures them that such is not the case. In fact, he is there to offer them the gift of deep and unshakable confidence. In spite of dire appearances, all is well.
The reason that all is well is because Jesus now offers them the Spirit. This Holy Spirit has the ability to enter the deepest recesses of their being and to make Jesus more truly present to them than he ever was when they knew him in the flesh. Jesus offers the same Spirit to us also and this Spirit can make Jesus wonderfully present to us. For it is this same Spirit who convinces us of the love of God for us … and, to the extent that we know that, we have nothing to fear.
We recall how God took his good spirit from King Saul and gave it to King David (1 Samuel 16: 13–14). The consequence was dramatic. Saul would slip deeper and deeper into darkness and despair, while David seemed to lead a charmed life in spite of sins and tragedies. In fact, he became the model of the Messiah and has been a favorite subject for sculptors and painters ever since.
Thomas was not there to receive the Spirit and so he could not trust the good news that the other disciples shared with him. However, when he met Jesus later, everything changed and he allowed Jesus to become thenceforth the center of his life. The witness of others is always important, but nothing can replace a personal encounter with the Lord.
One need not look far in our world today for attitudes of cynicism and distrust. We should avoid becoming gullible or naïve, of course, but we must at all cost learn how to trust. The risen Lord offers us his Spirit and, if we open our hearts to that best of all gifts, we will be able to trust when it is proper to do so.
Most of all, we will trust God’s promises, which tell us, in essence, that we can share in the life of Jesus if we dare to be kind and thoughtful and loving in a world that is too often thoughtless and cruel. We really cannot be trusting without the help of God, but with that help we can avoid the terrible pessimism of Saul and acquire the positive, hopeful spirit of David. This positive spirit is found everywhere in the Psalms, which have been attributed to David, not because he wrote more than a few of them, but because the authors of these beautiful prayers were all people like David.
A special gift of the Spirit is the confidence and freedom that allows us to forgive others. Life is just too short for holding grudges or for nursing old injuries. And when we let go of these burdens we will enter more and more into the joy and generosity of the Spirit. In this way, we will not only be free to face the future with courage but we will also become much more pleasant fellow travelers for those who are making the journey with us.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.