In today’s gospel, the disciples – the ones who had put all their hopes and trust in Jesus – are scared. Very, very scared.
Jesus was having his last meal with them and was about to leave them on their own. He was going to abandon them. He was going to disappear.
That was their fear.
We are all familiar with fear.
Whether it’s a fear of heights, or public speaking, or walking into a room filled with people we don’t know, or what goes “bump in the night” – whatever the fear, we can become terrified, sometimes to the point of immobility.
Alfred Hitchcock, the master of scary movies, wrote:
“When we were little children, we heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Then we grew up – only to discover that what frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf.”
Fear, or “anxiety,” as it is more technically described, is a pervasive feature of the human condition. Its purpose is important: to serve as a protective alarm system intended to alert us to danger and risk.
In other words, fear’s purpose is to keep us safe.
Neurotic fear is what becomes problematic.
Neurotic fear becomes exaggerated to the point of seriously disrupting our lives. We become overwhelmed with “toxic worry” – the kind that psychiatrist Edward Hallowell calls a “disease of the imagination … which undermines our ability to work, to love, and to play – all because we now live in fear of what might go wrong.”
That’s what the disciples were experiencing – toxic worry. The fear of abandonment. The fear of being left alone.
For the moment, place yourself in their predicament.
Their overriding fear was not just that Jesus was going to leave them, but that they would no longer have any protection from all kinds of scary possibilities:
“Will the Romans torture and crucify us as they did Jesus? How will the Jewish leaders treat us? What will happen to our little community of believers?”
Their hearts were burdened with unbridled anxiety, with neurotic fear.
Now, in that light, in your virtual predicament, listen again to what Jesus says to his disciples:
“I will not leave you orphans …. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father.”
And after speaking these calming words, Jesus further assures them:
“Do not let your hearts be … afraid.”
And, best of all, we are calmed by Jesus’ promise that He and His Father “will come to you and make our dwelling within you.”
To quiet their fears, Jesus first makes a promise – a guarantee that they – (and each one of us) – will never be abandoned, will never be left alone. And not only will we not be abandoned or deserted but Jesus and His Father will do the most intimate thing possible:
“We will … make our dwelling within you.”
God will take up residence within us! God will make a home within our hearts!
And Jesus goes even further to calm their fears – and ours as well. Having assured them that they will not be abandoned, and that they will become a home in which He and the Father will dwell, Jesus then introduces them to the Holy Spirit!
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
The Holy Spirit will serve as our personal comforter, our defender, our helper.
And we see again Jesus’ total commitment to make certain we understand that in all times and places, especially in moments of stress and loss and grief and heartaches of whatever kind, we have a personal comforter, a coach, a friend to guide and help us through the toughest of times.
Especially today, after we endured a terrible pandemic, fear becomes an even greater reality for us. All the more reason to listen carefully to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel.
We are not abandoned. We are not left to fend for ourselves. We are not alone.
Instead, we have been given the richest of all blessings – a God who is on our side; a God who wants more than anything to make a home in our hearts; a God who has given each of us an Advocate who will help us and remind us “of all that I told you.”
And, if all this were not enough, in Jesus’ final words to his disciples – and to us who are his disciples today – Jesus gives another gift, a final gift:
Not fear. Not anxiety. Not worry. Not apprehension.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
A peace that “surpasses … all understanding,” as St. Paul says. A peace that the world cannot give. A peace that assures us that whatever difficulties, trials, and tribulations we go through in our lives, God is there with us. A peace that rests in God’s irrevocable promise to make a home in our hearts.
And it’s in that sense of “peace” that Jesus can say with confidence to his disciples – and to each of us:
“I will not leave you orphans … whoever loves me will be loved by my Father ….
Do not be afraid.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.