April 25, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from John 20:19-23.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Gosh, there’s so much to consider in these few verses. First, I’m struck by the fact that the disciples had locked the doors because they were fearful. Fear is such an oppositional force throughout both the Hebrew and Greek Bibles but especially in the gospels. It is opposed to the love and peace of God. Jesus told his listeners over and over not to be afraid but to rest in the loving faithfulness of God, his Father. Fear is one of the principal tools that Satan uses to separate me from God, to weaken my trust in Him, to doubt His desire to provide for all of my needs. What does Jesus do to help them and me overcome this fear? He breathes on them just as God breathed life into Adam.
Such an intimate act — breathing into someone. There is nothing more intimate than God breathing His spirit of life into me. His spirit dwells within me and revivifies me with each inhalation if I let it. His spirit is my life’s breath. That’s why meditation, relaxation, and yoga all require deep breathing practices and awareness of one’s breathing. It makes me aware of God’s indwelling spirit, breathing in His holy Spirit and exhaling fear, tension, anxiety, and anger – the forces opposed to His love and peace. And it’s so simple just as all things are with God.
Why did Jesus show his disciples his hands and side? I think it goes to what I was writing yesterday — continuity. Jesus wasn’t restored to life as we know it; his wounds weren’t healed. His resurrection carried forward the fact of his suffering and death. He was reminding his disciples that neither could they avoid suffering and death particularly if they were true to the mission he was sending them out to accomplish. However, he gave them the gift of his peace through the breath of the holy Spirit, the peace that could withstand their fear. They could carry with them the joy they felt in seeing him again just by being aware of God’s indwelling holy Spirit, the breath of life. It wasn’t just the experience of joy and peace that Jesus gave them; they were given a mission, a responsibility. As Moloney writes in The Gospel of John, “As risen Lord he further gifts his disciples with the Spirit that they may be to the world what he has been.” And what was he? In the very beginning of his gospel John states that “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.”
Lastly, Jesus confers upon them the power of sins forgiven and retained. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary casts a new light on this for me, “This ‘power’ of forgiveness is probably expressed in the bestowing of the Spirit on those who believe as a result of the disciples’ ‘mission’ and who join the community rather than in a process of dealing with Christians who have committed sin.” Or as Moloney describes it, “the power to isolate, repel and negate evil and sin.” This makes sense to me. It wasn’t that the disciples and those who followed were given the power to condemn or punish believers for their sins; it was that through the holy Spirit they were given the power to repel and negate evil, the forces in opposition to God’s love, which we perpetuate through our sins. They were given the power of the holy Spirit so that they could breathe life into all those they encountered, the life of Jesus as the light of the human race. Each one of us has the power to forgive, to breathe life into someone who has sinned against us, and the power to repel evil through the gift of God’s peace and love. That’s my mission and responsibility.