It’s not hard to imagine the disciples’ state of mind as Jesus was preparing them for his death and resurrection. The bit about the resurrection was too much for them to comprehend at that stage. What stayed with them was the fact that he was going to suffer great injustices and eventually be killed. This was the person in whom they had had so many hopes. They had seen him perform miracles. They had listened to so many beautiful and life-giving teachings from him. They had heard him talk about giving new life, making things new, giving joy which would never be taken away. They had seen him feed the hungry with a few loaves and some fish, heal sick people, and even raise people from the dead. Speaking about such an untimely death did not make sense for them. It did not fit with their plans and their hopes. Moreover, during the past three years of being together a strong bond had been formed which cannot be underestimated. With his death all their hopes would be shattered. They would be thrown into a deep crisis. Jesus could foresee all this, and we know he was right. We’ve seen Peter completely loosing the plot, literally denying he had ever known this Jesus of Nazareth. We see the apostles running away and locking themselves up filled with fear. We’ve seen another two disciples running away from it all and, utterly dejected heading towards Emmaus. “We had hoped,” they told the stranger who came to meet them on the way. Now all is gone.
I suspect that the disciples could not really understand what Jesus was telling them. He spoke about his Father’s house and going to prepare a place for them, while hinting at his intimacy with his Father. Both Thomas and Philip, in fact, ask Jesus to specify and be more concrete. Jesus knew that this was too much for them, but he had to say it because, like so many other things in this relationship, it would become handy for the disciples later on. After the resurrection and the reception of the Holy Spirit, these words would be part of the core message of the apostles’ preaching. Jesus’ message was not just for those twelve people gathered with him in that room. It was meant to become timeless and for everybody. It is, therefore, even meant for us today.
Given the circumstances we are living in, if there is a message that we really need to hear is precisely this: do not let your heart be troubled. During these past few weeks of coronavirus I’ve seen people troubled in many different ways. People anxious abut the future. Others anxious about their health and that of their loved ones. People troubled about how to cope with their finances, having lost jobs, closed their family-business, or having had to forego part of their normal wage. Not to mention people who have been more directly hit by this crisis through the sickness, or even death, of a loved one. Jesus’ “do not let your hearts be troubled” is not another way of expressing the probably-unrealistic and over-cited hope that “all will be OK”. The message of the resurrection is not a denial of the loss, of the reality of death and the pain that comes with it. What the resurrection of Jesus tells us is that there is more beyond all this - not merely a return to the previous life. But an entrance into a new kind of life. Not after death, but in the here and now.
“I am the way, the truth and the life,” Jesus tells Thomas in today’s gospel. If we want to experience something really good, we have to go through him, the way that leads us there. Being the truth, he knows what we are going through. He does not try to water it down, or pretend it is not happening. He knows our pain, our doubts, our many questions, our fears and anxieties. This is how he knows us, and this is how he loves us. And this is how he wants to help us live through this, take something out of this experience, and give us a fuller life.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled”. In moments of fear or anxiety let us put ourselves in his loving arms, and trust that, as a good shepherd, he will lead us besides quiet waters, in green pastures, where our souls can be restored.