Tags

, , , , , , , ,


Here’s a look at today’s lectionary reading from John 20:19-31.  I am focusing on verses 19-21, and looking at Jesus sending the disciples as the Father has sent him.  This is not a full manuscript, but I hope you’ll benefit from the notes that follow each of these verses, particularly verse 21 where Jesus gives the disciples the ministry of forgiving sin.  This passage is still the ministry of the church today, and I hope you find this both helpful and encouraging.

Sent By Jesus
John 20:19-31 NIV/84

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may[a] believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Notes:

20:19:  “Peace be with you!”  
The disciples are anything but at peace.  With “doors locked for fear of the Jews” the disciple band huddles in secret on the evening of the resurrection.  They are confused, afraid, disoriented, and grief-stricken.

“Peace” is the greeting that Jesus taught the disciples in Luke 10 to bring to every home they entered.  And, so the mission of Jesus continues as though nothing has happened.

“Peace” is the shalom of God which encompasses well-being and confidence in God.  God’s shalom means things are as they should be.  This is not what the disciples believed at this moment.  Things were not as they should be:  Jesus was gone, dead, and now even his body was missing.  Into this chaos, Jesus reassures the disciples that things indeed are exactly as they should be.

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Two things are going on here:  first, Jesus shows them his pierced hands and side.  These wounds are the visible evidence that Jesus appears to them just as they had seen him on the cross — wounded for our transgressions.  This is no memory of Jesus before, but the continuing presence of Jesus after the crucifixion.  The resurrection of Jesus did not change the sacrifice of Jesus.  Even a week later when Jesus appears again with Thomas present, his wounds validate his real presence.

The disciples were overjoyed because before them stood Jesus, but alive.

20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Now things begin to change.  The disciples are about to enter the next phase of their work.  This phase of being sent has been tried out in Luke 10 when Jesus sent the 70 into the surrounding region.  They were to do what he had just done — bring God’s shalom, heal, restore, share table fellowship, live among people, demonstrate God to and for them.

Again, the shalom of God as greeting means, Things are as they should be.  My sending you is as it should be, this is the next step.  The disciples sending follows the model of God’s sending Jesus.  They are sent with authority, they are sent out from themselves, they are sent to serve, they are sent to live out the new kingdom of God among men, they are sent to demonstrate the salvation (health, wholeness, forgiveness and reconciliation) of God toward creation.  Sent in the same manner, with the same mission, by the same Master.

20:22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
But they are also sent with the same Spirit that overshadowed Mary, descended upon Jesus at his baptism, drove him into the desert, empowered him for service, and would be his presence with them from this point forward.

On the day of Pentecost, this same Spirit manifests itself to announce a new beginning to the world that has witnessed the evil of the Roman empire.

20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This passage, regardless of what we think it means, surely cannot mean that we possess the ability to forgive or not, the sins of others.  I looked at several old commentaries on this passage, and most said just that — Only God can forgive sins, and therefore this means that when the gospel is preached and people respond, God forgives them.

Unfortunately, that is not what this passage says.  In this appearance of Jesus, we have some of the most direct and clear language of any we see in John.  These are simple sentences, as though the disciples cannot take in complex, symbolic concepts.
I believe that Jesus meant exactly what he said.  Now, those who wrote years ago that this does not mean that the disciples or we have the ability to forgive sins, probably were writing (and one stated this explicitly) in response to the priestly practice of the Roman Catholic church.  One confesses to the priest, who after imposing penitential tasks, absolves the confessor of their sin.  But that is not what Jesus is referring to here.

One of the big things that got Jesus into trouble was forgiving the sins of the common people.  And, we talked about the reason for that several weeks ago.  The Temple was the only place in first century Judaism that sins could be forgiven.  The entire Temple enterprise, and it was very much that, was predicated on the idea that the Temple was the residence of God, and that a forgiving encounter with God could only happen there.

Feast days, festivals, and the high holy day of Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement — were the elaborate occasions for communal confession and repentance.  But, commoners like Mary and Joseph also went to the Temple to offer the smallest offering — a pair of turtledoves — for her purification.

So, when Jesus spoke of forgiving sins, he was at odds with the entire world of Judaism, including the chief priest, the Pharisees, the Sadduccees, the Council of the Sanhedrin, and most of all, the economic bounty that flowed to the Temple.

So, by telling the disciples that they now have the ministry of forgiveness, Jesus places them in the same position he was in — an adversary to the entrenched religious practice and practitioners of his day.

The most striking example of this is Jesus forgiving the sins of, and healing, the lame man.  Here’s Mark’s version, but the account appears in all three synoptic gospels —

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,“Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  – Mark 2:1-12 NIV84

So, the objection to Jesus’ healing was the same as the objection to this verse by some commentators — only God can forgive sins.  But Jesus obviously countered that by forgiving the lame man’s sins, and by healing him.

Actually, there was an old rabbinic saying, “No one can be healed unless first their sins are forgiven.”  So, healing, wholeness (salvation both physical and spiritual) involve forgiveness.

Jesus is conveying his ministry to the disciples.  First, he assures them of the shalom of God. Next he announces he is sending them as God as sent him.  Then, he equips them for their new mission by breathing into them the breath of life, the Spirit of God.  And, finally he tells them what their ministry is — forgiveness.

To understand what that means, we need to look at forgiveness for a moment.  First, this ability or ministry of forgiving (or not forgiving) sin is given to the community.  Jesus is not saying, and never intended, that the ministry of forgiveness become the solely the function of an elite group of priests.  He was actually removing the function of pronouncing forgiveness from the priests of his day, and giving it into the hands of his followers.

Rather, forgiveness is given to the community of disciples.  And, remember, at this point all the disciples, and Jesus’ entire ministry has been within Judaism.  So, the disciples become the new community of practice that now holds the keys to the kingdom:

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:18-19 NIV84)

Which also means that when God’s will is done on earth, it is reflecting what has and is being done in heaven.  Remember the Lord’s Prayer — “thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?  That’s exactly what we have here — God’s forgiveness being expressed through his followers on earth even as it is and has been expressed in heaven.
All of which means that the ministry Jesus has given to the disciples is also our ministry. But, you might object, we can’t go around forgiving people’s sins.

Well, forgiveness does two things.  First, it recognizes and makes a judgment that something has gone wrong in a relationship.  Secondly, it deals with the wrong appropriately, and restores the relationship within the community.

Forgiveness is the ministry of reconciliation — of bringing people back to God and back to each other in the community that follows God.

Paul said, 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 NIV84

On this the second Sunday of Eastertide, we are not only celebrating the risen Christ, we are also receiving our mission from Jesus.  That mission is to be a community of forgiveness, practicing reconciliation, before a world which knows nothing of God’s peace — things as they should be.

Early in his ministry, Henri Nouwen was the chaplain on an transoceanic ship.  One night, surrounded by fog so dense that the ship was operating by radar, the captain was pacing with great agitation on the deck.  As he turned, he ran into Nouwen, who was standing near the wheel house in case he was needed.

As the two collided, the captain cursed, and said, “Get out of my way.  I don’t need you here.”  Nouwen began his humiliating retreat, when the captain gruffly called back to him.

“On second thought, stay.  This might be the only time you’ll be of use to me.” (A Peculiar People, Rodney Clapp)

The world may not need Jesus or his disciples, or his church, for a lot of things.  But they do need us to demonstrate and practice forgiveness and reconciliation.  This might be the only way we are of use, and it is the ministry Jesus has given to us.