Gospel: John 20:19-31
God's Gift of Peace
When the last time you truly felt peaceful?
Peace is more than a lack of conflict. A lull in action between two opponents only gives them a chance to regroup, to recharge for the next round. A void of violence does not lead to happiness.
True peace, on the other hand, gives us happiness, since it is build on trust. The gospel tells us how Jesus gave his followers peace because they trusted him. In spite of skepticism, he offers us the same peace.
19 Late Sunday evening, the followers of Jesus locked the doors where they met because they feared the Jewish leaders. Jesus appeared before them and said, "Peace be with you." 20 After he spoke, Jesus showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They felt great joy when they saw the Lord. 21 Again, Jesus said to them, "Peace be with you. Just as the Father sent me, I am sending you." 22 Then, Jesus blew on them. "Take in the Holy Spirit," Jesus said.
23 "If you forgive someone's sins, their sins are and will ever be forgiven. If you don't forgive their sins, their sins are not forgiven."
24 But Thomas the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus appeared. 25 The other followers told him over and over, "We've seen the Lord!" Thomas replied, "I won't believe it until I inspect the nail scars in his hands and touch the scar in his side."
26 The next Sunday, the followers were inside along with Thomas. 27 Jesus came into the locked room, stood in the before them, and said, "Peace be with you." Then Jesus said to Thomas, "Take your finger and inspect my hands here. Take your hand and inspect my side. Give up your doubts and believe!" 28 Thomas replied "You are my Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "You believe because you have seen me. Those who haven't seen me and believe are really happy."
30 Jesus performed many other miracles that are not written down in this book. 31 These miracles have been written down so you can still believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and, believing, you can have life in his name.
In this gospel, John related two resurrection stories and two verse many scholars believe were the original ending to the gospel. The first section focused upon the gift of the Spirit, the second upon faith, and the third upon the reason for evangelization.
19 Being evening in that first day of the week, and the doors having been locked where the disciples were because of fear of the (Jewish leaders.), Jesus came and stood in the middle (of them) and said "Peace to you." 20 Having said this, he showed (his) hands and side to them. The disciples rejoiced, having seen the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you." 22 Having said this, he blew on and said to them, "Take (in) the Holy Spirit. 23 If you sent away the sins of anyone, they have been sent off for them. If you hold (their sins) back, they have been held back."
20:19 "evening in that first day of the week" is literally "evening in that day, the first one of the sabbaths." The use of the plural "sabbaths" indicates the time frame of a week.
"(Jewish leaders)" is literally "Jews." John used generic language to indicate specific groups within in the general culture. "Jews" were members of the Jewish leadership. "Greeks" were the non-Jewish populace (not people born in Greece).
20:23 This is an extremely awkward set of sentences. The sentences are literally "Of whomever you might sent away (their) sins, they have been sent away for them. Of whomever you might hold, they have been held."
The key theological phrase is "they have been sent away;" the verb is in the past tense, indicating the sin had been forgiven before the pronouncement of the Church.
On the one hand, Jesus already suffered for that particular sin and all the sins of the world. Hence, the declaration would be a proclamation of the Good News. (The current form of Sacrament of Reconciliation stresses this proclamation. In the sacrament, we are to celebrate God's forgiveness, not our sinfulness.)
On the other hand, the implication of "pre-forgiveness" might lead to presumption on the part of the sinner or a sense of blessed predestination. Obviously the former sense is meant, not the later. God holds everyone responsible for their actions, both of sin and of faith.
In his gospel, John gave the reason the followers gathered together behind locked doors. They feared the Jewish leadership. "If they killed Jesus," the followers reasoned, "the leadership would certainly be looking for us." [20:19a]
Barred doors made Jesus' followers look more suspicious. At the time, trust within the Jewish community was built upon open access. Doors were never locked. Neighbor children could enter one's house at will. Jews lived private lives in the open. Anyone who locked their doors (save the rural family who lived miles from their neighbor), cut themselves off from the community.
Suddenly Jesus appeared in the locked room and greeted his followers with " Shalom." [20:19b] Shalom ("peace" in Hebrew) meant God was working in the world. When God worked, he put the world in balance. No war, no hatred, no cynicism could overcome God's providence. When God worked, he put the spirit in balance. No fear, no doubt, no lack of trust could overcome the sheer joy of God's presence. Shalom meant everything was right in God's world.
When his followers saw Jesus alive with his deadly wound, they realized the "Shalom" of Jesus, for they witnessed God's activity in the world. Fear left them, for now they believed. Joy entered their hearts. [20:20]
Again Jesus said "Shalom" with a command and a gift. The command: Go into the world. As the Father send Jesus into the physical world, Jesus would now send his followers into the cultural world. [20:21]
With the command came the gift: the Holy Spirit. In Greek (pneuma) and Hebrew (ruah), the word "spirit" can be translated as "breath" In 20:22, the word "breathe on" in Greek can be seen only here and in Genesis 2:7 of the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Bible used by the early Church) where God breathed life into Adam. So, when Jesus breathed on his followers, he gave them his Spirit. When the followers took in the Spirit, they received his newly risen life. [20:22]
Now they could obey the missionary command to proclaim repentance and forgive sin. Jesus told his followers to forgive or retain sin like a knot loosening or tied closely together. If the followers forgive, however, they must loosen the sinner from the guilt now and in the future. Sin was never to be brought up again. [20:23]
Catechism Themes: CCC 645-647
We do not know what Christ's risen body is like. On the one hand, the risen Jesus could be touched by his followers. His body still had the wounds of the passion. On the other hand, he entered locked rooms at will and appeared to his followers as he wished. His body was not limited by space and time. While his body possessed signs of his past, it was transformed to a new plane. The body of Christ now possessed the power of the Spirit.
The resurrection was at once a moment in history two millennium ago and a moment for all time. That which space and time bound was raised to the eternal. When we profess Christ is risen, we acknowledge our faith in a life beyond despite our present limitations. We can touch that very life through the Spirit. And, because of the Spirit, our shortcomings that stand in the way of eternal life can be swept aside.
Why does the Christian walk lead through forgiveness to peace? How have you experienced that road?
24 But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called "Twin," was not there when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and thrust my finger into the mark of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe (you)." 26 After eight days, again the disciples were inside, and Thomas (was) with them. Jesus came (although) the doors had been locked, he stood in the middle (of them) and said, "Peace to you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Take your finger here and inspect my hands; take your hand and thrust (it) into my side. Do not become unbelieving but believing." 28 Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and My God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed. Happy (are) those not having seen and having believed."
Preachers have called Thomas the "Doubter." Few have touched upon his cynicism. Over and over, Thomas heard the witness of the followers. But, Thomas wanted more than proof positive. ("Inspect and touch," literally meant "to see and thrust.") He stepped beyond skepticism into cynicism. [20:24-25]
A week later, Jesus again appear with the greeting of "Shalom." Turning to Thomas, Jesus answered the challenge of cynicism with the challenge of faith. Thomas responded with two titles for Jesus: Lord and God. Thomas acknowledged the rightful place of Jesus as Lord; he also saw God working through the Risen Christ. Thomas finally received Christ's gift of Shalom. [20:26-28]
In contrast to Thomas, Jesus blessed those who believed without seeing him raised from the dead. [20:29] Here John used the word "believe" in two senses: to trust ("believe in") and to hold onto the truth ("believe (something) about..."). Blessed were those who placed their personal trust in Christ (believe in); they do not need proof of his resurrection, for they know he is alive. But, even blessed are those who hold onto the truths of faith (believe...about), for, with an open heart, they will soon experience the risen Christ. Belief in these two sense stood against the cynicism found in Thomas.
Catechism Themes: CCC 651-655
Without the Resurrection, Christianity would be nothing more than a school that taught the wisdom of a great teacher. With the Resurrection, however, Christianity became a road to intimacy with God.
The Resurrection justifies the life, works, and teachings of Jesus. Through the lens of the Resurrection, we can see this life, these works and teachings in the context of Scripture and realize "Jesus is Lord." Faith in the Resurrection leads us to the conclusion Jesus is true God and true man.
Through the Resurrection, we receive the gift of a new eternal life, free from evil. We become one with our Savior who died and rose for us. And, as he rose, Christ assures us that we, too, will rise on the last day.
How does the cynicism of the world affect you? How does faith keep you from cynicism?
30 Indeed, Jesus also did many other signs before his disciples which are not written down in this small book. 31 These have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life in his name.
20:31 "you might believe" can also be translated "you might continue to believe." John's gospel, then, would not be for evangelizing the non-Christian, but strengthening the believer.
The peace Christ give us heals the fear and cynicism of the world. This peace builds bridges of trust and allows us to walk together to the Father. His peace allows us to continue to believe and to hold on to his very life. Let us, then, offer each other the peace of Christ, the Shalom of his Spirit.
How can you offer the peace of Christ to others in your daily life?