There's an old joke still making the rounds: Two strangers strike up a conversation at a Washington, D.C. cocktail party. After a few minutes of small talk, one says to the other, "Have you heard the latest White House joke?" The other holds up a hand, "Wait, before you begin. I should tell you I work at the White House." "Oh, don't worry," replies the first stranger, "I'll tell it to you s-l-o-w-l-y."
Some of us are slow learners. Perhaps among the slow learners are the apostles in today's Gospel. These are the people who walked with Jesus, talked with him, listened to his stories, observed his healing touches, and shared meals with him. If any people should have learned quickly and supported Jesus courageously, it should have been "the Twelve." But in their time of crisis, we know they failed miserably. Today the apostles come face to face with Jesus for the first time since he was betrayed in the Garden. They are surprised to see Jesus and they are scared stiff! (That's why the door is locked!) They remember only too well what they were doing the last time they saw Jesus, or rather, the last time Jesus saw them! They were running away, and Peter was cursing the high priest's maid, insisting he didn't even know this "Jesus" fellow! Not their proudest moment! Now Jesus stands in their midst. Is he angry? Is he frustrated? Does he scold them for their cowardice?
Amazingly, his first words to them are not words of condemnation or even of disappointment. "Shalom! Peace!" he says. "Peace be with you!" This "shalom" greeting is not just a wish. It is a genuine blessing. It is Jesus' gift to them. In effect, Jesus is telling them, and us too: "Okay, it seems you didn't get it right the first time around. You had some misconceptions about me, some unreal expectations. I understand you are not bad people. You are just slow learners. So let's start over."
We too are slow learners. We may have some misconceptions about Jesus, ideas pounded into our heads from our earliest years. For instance, we think Jesus is concerned about our keeping church rules and legal codes. He is not, having broken many religious laws and purity rituals in his time. We think he is concerned only that we get to heaven after we die. He is not. He is tremendously concerned about how we go about making this planet earth, become a place where love and peace and justice prevail. (It's hard work, but it's what Jesus wants of us!) We think he wants us to worship him; yet Jesus never says this. But on almost every Gospel page, Jesus invites us to walk his walk, to follow his footsteps through suffering and death to resurrection. And when asked about the relative importance of the many commandments in the Bible, Jesus says only ONE is ultimately important: love! Love Abba God with all your heart and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself! It may sound easy, but it is the most difficult of all commandments, and it takes us an entire lifetime to learn. We may be "slow learners," but we DO learn. It's never too late. Now is the opportune time for us to put aside our own misconceptions about Jesus and, like the apostles in today's Gospel, start over. SHALOM!