The Church takes us back to the night the Lord was betrayed to reread what was said, but now in the light of Easter. What hindsight does Resurrection give?
The disciples that night were “troubled.” Knowing Judas would betray him, Jesus was troubled, too (cf. Jn 13:21). The disciples, perhaps piecing it together, perhaps seeing it on the Lord’s face, feared the worst, faintly discerning the coming tragedy. They were frightened. No matter how often he told them not to be afraid, they were afraid. The world was still without Easter; it made perfect sense to be afraid.
Which is why what the Lord said was so remarkable. The one who should’ve been consoled, in fact, consoles. “You have faith in God; have faith also in me” (Jn 14:1). The mood is as imperative as it is indicative. Jesus, himself troubled, exhorts his troubled disciples to have faith — commands them, one could say. When fearful, when troubled, when worried: Have faith!
|May 7 – Fifth Sunday of Easter|
That’s the lesson. Easter makes it more believable. Faith in the Lord’s resurrection and hope in ours is what gives us strength against fear. That’s what we’re meant to discover as we reread these words from that fearful night: the reasonableness of faith in the face of fear. Whenever we’re afraid, when we’re troubled by darkness in our days, that’s what we’re meant to remember — that Jesus and his disciples were troubled, too, but that they risked faith. Easter Christians in a Good Friday world, that’s what we’re called to be. But we must believe so much that our hearts aren’t troubled; we must have real faith.
Faith will make us conquerors. “I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33), Jesus said that night. Easter proved him right. We, too, should know we’re conquerors — like Jesus, even before we experience resurrection ourselves. Whoever believes in Jesus is the “victor over the world” (1 Jn 5:5). The Lamb has conquered; he will eternally conquer, “for he is the Lord of lords and king of kings” (Rv 17:14). To the seven churches of Asia, that was John’s repeated exhortation: “To the victor,” he said again and again (cf. Rv 2:7). Such is our apocalyptic Christian faith. We know who wins; we know how it ends. This is why the martyrs giggled as they were persecuted, cracked jokes and laughed as they died. Because they knew who made heaven and earth and who redeemed it; they knew him.
Which is why what Jesus told Thomas and Philip matters so much. Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Whoever has seen Jesus “has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). How dare we have such faith? Why aren’t we utter fools for being so unafraid in this wicked world? How dare we call ourselves conquerors? We dare it because we believe in Jesus, because we live in him by baptism, because we eat his flesh and drink his blood, because the Spirit lives within us, showing us the Father. “Christ lives in me,” Paul said (Gal 2:20). That’s true for every believer. That’s why we’re unafraid, why we’re fearless, because of the Christ we find by faith in the sacraments, the Christ who sets a table for us even before our enemies (cf. Ps 23:5).
The invitation, therefore, as we reread these words in light of Easter, is to rediscover why we Christians shouldn’t be afraid. As St. John Henry Newman said once, “We love you, O men of this generation, but we fear you not.” We Christians must keep and renew such love and such fearlessness if we’re to be what God wants us to be in this world — courageous witnesses of Christ and his love. But to do so, we must first be honest about what troubles us, what frightens us. And then we must enter our own upper room, the quiet of our sometimes unquiet souls, and there find Jesus; and there, hear him whisper faith.
Father Joshua J. Whitfield is pastor of St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas and author of “The Crisis of Bad Preaching” (Ave Maria Press, $17.95) and other books.