27 April 2014John 20:19-31
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (v. 21)
At one level the passage today is a fascinating resurrection story, but on another there are many questions about why John's Gospel includes what it does. We read of scared disciples who have lost their beloved leader and are hiding away in fear for their lives. I suspect it is hard for those of us who live in peaceful countries to imagine what that must have felt like: however, when we watch news of others who live in place undergoing war and civil unrest, then we do begin to get an inkling of what these verses so briefly describe.
Into this fear and panic the resurrected Jesus comes to offer peace, an instruction to be sent out, then the gift of the Holy Spirit, the and some guidance about forgiving others. It is important that peace comes first as there must have been panic and uncertainty. But then comes the greatest challenge, "as the Father has sent me, so I send you". The first task given to the disciples is to go, to set off on a journey, to teach and to do the things they have seen Jesus do.
But now questions arise: what does it mean to be 'sent'? We have no clues here. It is as if John's Gospel is written in shorthand. It is also intriguing that not all the disciples were present when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on them. Why would Jesus be excluding some? Especially when, later in the story, we have the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). Was this breath just for the few? Was it connected to the ability to forgive sins? Was this passage written when structures for the early Church were being set up and needed to show that particular leaders have received this ability to forgive sins once they had received the Holy Spirit?
The passage concludes with the story of Thomas, labelled over the years as 'doubting Thomas' when he did not believe in Jesus' resurrection until he had seen with his own eyes. Jesus promise of blessing is for those who have not seen and yet believe.
- How do you picture this story evolving in your own mind?
- How would you have reacted in that situation?
- To what extent is Thomas someone to admire as he shows his humanity or is he someone who is who can disturb your peace in not believing?