Wednesday 27 May 2015

Bible Book:

“He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (vv. 22-23)

John 20:19-23 Wednesday 27 May 2015

Psalm: Psalm 47


In Hebrew and in Aramaic (the local language that Jesus wouldhave spoken), the word for spirit and the word for breath are thesame, and it even sounds like a breath: 'ruah'. John's Gospel isthe only one that records the resurrection Jesus 'breathing' on hisdisciples in this deliberate and symbolic way. It is a gesture thatrecalls God's act of creation in breathing life itself into humanbeings (Genesis 2:7). This is the giving of God's HolySpirit which Jesus has promised to his disciples (John7:39). It is John's version of Luke's Day of Pentecost.

This bestowed 'breath of God' is not just an intimate blessing;it is linked with tough issues like the authority to forgive, ornot to forgive sins. This is the Spirit as the Counsellor orAdvocate, the one who exercises judgement about sin, the spirit oftruth who will lead us into all truth (John16:7, 13). In Matthew's Gospel, the power to forgive sins seemsto be invested only in Peter as the 'lead' disciple (Matthew 16:19), and it is on this verse thatsome Churches have decreed that the authority to forgive sinsshould only be wielded by those ordained to the priesthood. InJohn's narrative, it seems that all the disciples (and hence, allfollowers of Jesus) have this power breathed into them.

Perhaps we find it easier to identify with the task of theChurch to show compassion and forgive sins than with that of'retaining' them. Certainly, there have been times whenconventionally respectable Christians have used the latter power inways that became very judgemental and excluding of individuals, incontrast with the hospitable attitude which Jesus tended to showtowards those who did not or could not always live up to therigorous demands of the law. But at the same time, the Church hasnot always had the courage to examine carefully (in the spirit oftruthfulness) wider contemporary, institutional practices andattitudes which may retain deep sinfulness and which should not beglossed over. For instance, only when slavery was denounced as acontinuing and retained sin was it possible to legislate against itand make real changes happen. There may be issues today which weshould be treating in a similar way, if we are to remain true tothe gift of God's Spirit in us.

To Ponder

  • What contemporary attitudes or practices do you think should beexposed and named as sinful, rather than too easily forgiven?
  • What or whom do you personally most need to forgive?
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