We have just heard in our Gospel (John 20:19-31) the classic greeting of the Risen Lord Jesus : “Peace be with you”. I suppose it is this word “Peace” that make us think that meeting with the Risen Lord Jesus, being a Christian, is always going to be something calm and uplifting. Of course, we’re quite wrong, because the “Peace” that Jesus gives us is not a Peace where we can sit back and relax. With Jesus there is always some kind of challenge, and we have a number of different examples of this in our readings today.
There is a story told of a man who was bringing the Christian faith to a tribe in Africa, He went from clan to clan, spending a few months with each clan, telling them the story of the Gospel. Sometimes he got a marvellous response and sometimes he didn’t. He tells how on one occasion after many meetings with a particular clan, he told them that he thought them ready to be baptised and to begin to spread the Gospel to others. However he realised his mistake when they said they were happy to be baptised, but how much was he going to pay them to go out and tell others?
He didn’t baptise them. They knew the stories but clearly had not yet met the risen Lord.
Notice in our Gospel that as soon as the Risen Jesus has greeted the disciples with “Peace” he says “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” No stopping to enjoy the Peace is allowed! This kind of Peace is something that must be passed on. Our 2nd Reading (Rev 1:9-19) has an even more dramatic story, for Jesus shouts at the poor author with what he describes as a sound “like a trumpet, “Write down all that you see..”” Foolishly, you might think, the author turns to actually see Jesus and immediately falls “in a dead faint” from which he has to be revived! And then he writes and writes – the great vision that is the last book in the Bible. Finally we hear in our 1st Reading “that many signs and wonders were worked among the people at the hands of the apostles.” Here too, we see that it is not enough to receive the risen Jesus, we have to allow his power to flow through us to others.
Now I know how you are feeling as I tell you this, because I often feel the same. “Do I really have to? Can’t I just enjoy the knowledge that Jesus is with me? Can’t I just receive him at Mass today without being expected to do much more?” I know just what will happen if I start trying to tell my friends about Jesus. They will think I have turned into a religious nutter. They will be embarrassed. They may even stop being my friends! Perhaps you are surprised that it is just the same for me. You might think being a priest would make it easy, but it doesn’t really. They are happy for me to be a nice smiley friendly priest, but if I start challenging them with the Gospel, then they back off fast.
What then do I do to be true to my Risen Lord?
Well, I don’t just spout off religious words at anybody, because that certainly can frighten people off. But on the other hand I don’t stay friendly and smiley all the time. I have to let the Holy Spirit guide me here, because that is the power that Risen Jesus gives us for this purpose. We heard it in our Gospel ,“he breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit.” One of the Gifts of the Spirit is the gift of discernment, and this means being sensitive enough in each situation to know what to say and what not to say. Some of us are big-mouths and tend to say too much too quickly, and others of us face the other sin, of saying too little, or even not saying anything at all. Each is a sin, each is a failure to let God work in our lives.
As with words, so with actions ; to know when to act and when to leave it to someone else. One of the great principles of management! Some of us try and do too much, always busy, always thinking we know how to do everything, and easily irritated when others don’t do the job properly. This is not just a lack of trust in others but also a lack of trust in God, in his power to work in others, to work through someone else rather than us. It is the sin of arrogance. Others of us always think we are not skilled enough to do this job or that. But we have to remember that false modesty is just as much a sin as arrogance, because it too is a failure to believe in God’s power to work in us and through us.
So in the end it is not the 40 days of Lent that is the time when we should work harder for God, it is Easter, because the Easter message is that our work must always be in his power and not in our own.