“Contemporary psychiatric research notes that anxiety and fear are related emotions, and both relate to action. Fear stimulates avoidance and escape, but when these or any actions are blocked or thwarted, fear turns into anxiety. At the core, all emotions presuppose certain kinds of knowledge. In fear, this knowledge is an awareness of danger.”1
We find the disciples in today’s Gospel in the grip of fear, and being powerless to assuage those fears, they are anxious, restless, trapped in body and spirit.
The disciples feared the Jews, or really a small but powerful subset of the Jews; they feared that they too might die like their Master had died, and so they hid, perhaps a little cowardly, with the exception of Thomas, who seemed to lack the usual self-preservation instinct.
“Fear … would certainly account for the highly irregular action of “locking the doors.” Middle Eastern culture does not recognize or respect privacy. While the interior of a house is sacred to the family, the place where the women are protected and kept secure, children have the culturally recognized right of wandering in and out of every home to spy on what other families are doing and report this back to their own families.
“In group-oriented societies like that of our ancestors in the faith, every group suspects that all other groups are plotting evil against it. The only way to protect one’s group is to keep informed about what other groups are up to. Young children serve this purpose, which is why Jesus forbade his disciples to keep the youngsters away from him. Jesus wanted everyone to know that he had nothing to hide.
“The reason why the disciples locked the door is chiefly because they wanted to hide themselves! Not that others did not know where they were or could not easily find them. Their action (locking doors = avoidance) was prompted by fear.”2
Into this disaster comes Jesus, right past the locked door and right into the midst of the fear. Jesus doesn’t hesitate, He already knew what was going on, and so right away He says “Peace be with you.”
Now, “The Hebrew word for “peace” is very rich and has at least eight different meanings. David asks his general, Joab, literally about “the peace of Joab, the peace of the people, and the peace of the war” (2 Sam 11:7).”3 Shalom, in it’s fullness, means “peace, completeness, prosperity, and welfare.”4
The shalom, the peace of God, though, transcends all of that – it passeth all understanding – and only God can give that kind of peace. That’s the kind of peace that calms the souls of the saints, that keeps them from fear, fear of loss, fear of danger, even the fear of death.
Jesus, being God, needs only to speak peace for it to descend upon His disciples, to cast out their fear. On top of that, Jesus always giving more than anyone can ever imagine or hope for, He breathes on them, breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, giving them power beyond words.
On this Pentecost, as we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, perhaps some of us are in the midst of fear, of anxiety; maybe some of us are troubled, trapped, behind locked doors of our own making, bereft of peace.
If you are, you’re not alone; no one is continually free from fear, from anxiety, from feeling alone and without hope. But the Church reminds us today that the Lord has offered to breathe away our fears, to give us, by His Holy Spirit, strength, courage, and His peace that passeth all understanding.
If that sounds good, you’re in the right place: Jesus is here, His peace is here, the Holy Spirit is here.