The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…,
This first impulse of the disciples was an understandable one.
Jesus had been arrested, tried, scourged and crucified. The disciples had witnessed at least portions of the events, if only from a comfortable distance.
If the inhabitants in and around Jerusalem can go from loud “Hosanna’s” to “Crucify Him” in regards to Jesus, (their master and teacher,) then those same crowds and religious leaders could just as easily go the same direction with anyone identified as followers of Jesus.
So, there is legitimate danger out there, and the first impulse to danger that we can think of would naturally be “lock the door!”
But if there is one thing that this story shows us for certain, it is that locked doors are never the answer we think they should be.
A locked door does not keep you safe from a larger community. If anything, it makes you a target by raising suspicions.
“Why are they always behind locked doors?”
“What are they hiding?”
“They must be up to something!”
We are well acquainted with this world of suspicion. We see it played out in conspiracy theories in our own time. We watch as segregated communities or little understood peoples, or simply the “other” is demonized or criticized.
The first impulse of fear is protection, not engagement.
We really have no indication that this was the case from John’s telling of this story, only that the disciples clearly felt unsafe, felt fear that caused them to turn to the bolting of doors and keeping to themselves.
Locking the door out of an impulse of fear at least raises the possibility that they were being watched, or they felt conspicuous, but locked doors are at best temporary measures.
You can’t stay behind locked doors forever.
More insidiously, when you go the route of following this “first impulse” and hiding behind locked doors, you close yourself off from any real possibility for communicating to that larger community “out there” either your intentions or gaining any understanding about whatever it is you may feel you are hiding from.
Locking the door and ignoring whoever or whatever is “out there” does not make that person, those people, that situation go away. It only deepens the divide and intensifies the fear.
Perhaps this was a realization that Thomas came to early on. It is strictly speculation of course, but is this the reason he was not with the others when Jesus first appeared?
Maybe Thomas recognized that there was something not quite right about retreating behind locked doors!
Maybe, while he may not have “belief” yet, Thomas does at least exhibit a willingness to venture out and to look for something else besides fear to motivate him.
For whatever reason, Thomas is not there when we get the second reason why locked doors are not the answer.
Jesus goes right through them.
A locked door does not stop Jesus from appearing, and from breathing the gift of the Holy Spirit on his frightened disciples.
A locked door does not stop Jesus’ care, or his desire to calm fears, or his ability to act.
A locked door does not keep Jesus from issuing the same command he had given to these disciples before they let fear take control of their actions.
The disciples were, (after all) to be known also as , “apostles” — the “sent ones.”
“As the father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus says as he breathes on them.
You are sent to forgive sins.
You are sent to proclaim good news.
You are sent to bring healing, light, to let your peace rest on the house you enter.
You are sent to bring life.
Sitting behind locked doors is not what Jesus had in mind for those whom he had taught and empowered.
In life, Jesus had been about being out and about among the people.
He had traveled the Galilee region.
Jesus had been known to get into people’s boats at the spur of a moment to stay ahead of the crowd.
He had been known to give instructions to go to the far shore, to visit foreign lands, to cast demons out in the country of the Geresenes and wreak havok on pork production in the process!
He had ranged far and wide, from the Decapolis to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
Jesus had (in John’s gospel at least) made multiple trips to Jerusalem and was known for being as comfortable sitting beside a well and chatting with a stranger and a woman in Samaria as he was sitting in a Synagogue with Pharisees and worshipers.
Jesus had been a frequent guest at parties and weddings, had stayed more than once at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
Jesus had been known to accept the invitation of Pharisees, and to invite himself for a meal with tax collectors.
None of this speaks of him being very fond of or acquainted with locked doors at all.
The direction given to his disciples as they began their ministry had been to travel light, take nothing extra, live on the hospitality that was offered.
No locked doors in their travels.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” he had famously said, giving us an image reproduced now in countless churches and paintings. The teacher who beckons those behind their locked doors to come forth and follow.
An already sealed tomb had not stopped him from raising Lazarus from the dead.
In fact, the most final of locked doors, the stone that had secured his own tomb, sealed (according to Matthew) by Pilate could not contain him.
The stone was rolled away.
But still, locked doors seem to have their appeal to his followers, and the appeal is strong.
It is strong enough that we find the disciples still behind those same locked doors a week later, this time Thomas is with them.
And this time, the locked doors are just as useless in stopping Jesus from getting in, breathing on them all again, (this time including Thomas) and giving that gift of the Spirit again, the gift given to be sent.
Locked doors are not the answer for keeping you safe.
Locked doors are not the answer for keeping Jesus out either.
Which makes one wonder, with all this evidence of the uselessness of locked doors, why we clamor for them still?
What makes us think that locking down or securing borders will somehow keep out those who long for a better life?
Would not the “Jesus thing to do” be to take the basin and towel and wash the weary feet of those who are fleeing the violence and economic insecurity of their home country for asylum here?
Would not the “Jesus thing to do” be to meet them with bread and fish, feed them, and call them blessed?
What makes us think that locking doors of opportunity for some will keep them from aspiring to find a way through?
Would not the “Jesus thing to do” be to accompany them, walk with them, multiply the resources at hand as if by miracle to give them a chance to eat, be fed, and to find hope?
What makes us think that locking criminals behind bars of steel, or children in cages of chain link fencing, or multiplying the number of “for profit prisons,” or pursuing policies of “zero tolerance” will keep us safe? Do they not instead widen the gap and isolate us all the more, making suspicion “king” instead of Jesus?
Does not hiding behind doors of shut-out opportunity, ignoring those outside, simply increase our level of fear, our anxiety about those “others” out there, who will forever be “other” and “out there” so long as we continue to seek the safety of separation of locked doors and gated communities?
If this gospel lesson shows us anything, it is that what we do out of the motivation of fear can never keep us safe, nor can it keep Jesus from getting to us, finding us, calling us by name (as he did Thomas!) and reminding us what kind of Spirit we have been given.
In fact, the more we clamor for our locked doors, the more Jesus seems to come at us with his Spirit, relentlessly reminding us who and whose we are, and what we were called to do and be as his followers.
We were called to be the “sent ones.”
We were called to proclaim forgiveness.
We were washed to be the servants of others, to take up the basin and towel as Jesus did.
We were fed with the bread of his own body and blood to become those who will hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness, and who will work tirelessly spreading the peace that we ourselves have received from Christ.
We were gifted by the power of the Holy Spirit breathed upon us to not look to locked doors, but rather to be reminded of the God who was, who has always been, on the move!
We are to be followers of Jesus, who was apparently not afraid to go anywhere, (including Jerusalem if that is what it took to bring the message of the forgiveness of sins to this world.)
We are recipients of the Spirit of God from Jesus, who showed us how to scoff at political power, calling Herod an “old fox”, and who called Pilate in his darkest hour to consider and hear “truth.”
No, locked doors were never in the lesson plans anywhere for Jesus’ Disciples, and locked doors are not the answer to any of the ills of this world.
This is what Thomas and the others learn this day. The world can be changed, and peace can be given, but only if we are willing to claim what has been given to us already, that Spirit of God, and become at last the “sent ones” instead of being seduced by the appeal of locked doors.