Text for the Week: Spreading Peace

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then 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.” When he had said this, 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.”

Questions

Why does Jesus give the blessing of peace twice?

What is the connection between the peace of Jesus and the sending of the disciples?

What is the meaning of Jesus’ words about forgiveness?

How does forgiveness connect to peace and being sent?

Reflection

John is definitely a book that cannot be read at full speed if you want to get the most out of the book and this passage is no exception. On the surface it seems like a straightforward snapshot of the disciples’ first encounter with Jesus after his resurrection, but with John there is always more. Yes, there is certainly a historical element to this passage, Jesus came to the disciples as that sat in the room and rocked their world. I do not want to sound like I am completely dismissing the history behind this text, but John is also clearly writing this text with an agenda that includes more than simply giving the details of what happened. It is in paying close attention to the details of John’s writing that we begin to understand how he is using the historical situation to show us God’s deeper purposes for us.

In this passage I was struck by the fact that Jesus repeats his blessing of peace, it was natural in that culture to greet people with “peace” the way Jesus did, but not to say it twice. Why would Jesus reintroduce the concept of “peace” after showing his disciples his wounds? The concept of peace in the Jewish world is that of harmony, being at one with God and creation– “shalom”. The first occurrence of “peace” is probably the standard Jewish greeting, Jesus wishing his friends harmony with God; the second occurrence is directly tied to the wounds Jesus shows. I think Jesus is wishing them well but then in showing his wounds he is saying, “here is the peace (harmony) of the world.” In showing his wounds Jesus is revealing the restoration of peace between creation and God. This concept is strengthened when we consider John intentionally tells us it was the first day, this language is a subtle allusion to creation. Just as God, in the beginning, created a in harmony, so now Jesus is recreating that world through his wounds. The sending of the disciples is the proclamation of this new creation to the world who lives in disharmony. Jesus is clearly announcing to them that the world has changed and the peace that prior to his wounds was only wished for among friends is now a present reality. This is one of the deepest griefs I have with many classic hymns, they want to talk about peace like it is temporary here on earth and only fully present after death. Jesus is clearly saying here that peace has come to live and find a home, in the words of Charles Wesley:

In Christ your Head, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven. O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Thus when Jesus is sending out the disciples he is not simply telling them to say there is a world after death where peace reigns; rather, they are to tell people that there is potential for harmony with God here and now. But the disciples are going to find living out this new creation difficult, after all the human condition is built for the world we know not the world Jesus is introducing to us. This is why we see a representation of Jesus passing on the Holy Spirit in an act that mimics creation in Genesis 1 & 2. Jesus breathing on the disciples is meant to echo God’s Spirit hovering over creation in Genesis 1 and being breathed into humanity in Genesis 2. Jesus is providing the disciples with the means to change to be accommodated to this new world. Not that the Holy Spirit was unknown prior to this event but there is a newness to the present reality of God in the creation Jesus has inaugurated. Part of the significance of Jesus’ presence in that room is a new relationship between God’s Spirit and humanity, a relationship that better reflected God’s intended relationship.

But the Holy Spirit is also necessary because the work the disciples are being asked to do is difficult and they will need the help. I really do not think too many people are terribly upset by a message that says, “God loves you and has a home for you after you die.” The message that upsets people is, “God wants peace now and is offering you peace today but that requires change.” And what is the one element that Jesus talks about in this new creation– the forgiveness of sins. I think it is amazing that Jesus allows us the power to pronounce forgiveness what is more he almost commands we use it. There are lots of murky waters about what exactly Jesus means and just how much power we have, but I do not want to wade into waters that are so littered with potential rocks. But what is clear is that Jesus wants us to be characterized by our willingness to forgive people. This does not mean our willingness to sweep things under the rug or pronounce cheap “get out of hell free” cards. Forgiveness is about a desire to work with people for restoration– something that is often outside the human power. Again, this is why the Holy Spirit is so necessary. We are pronouncing the restoration of God’s creation, the peace of God, and this includes being in peace with our fellow humans. And since we have a tendency to harm our fellow humans, forgiveness of sins is necessary. This includes offering forgiveness for the wrongs done us and receiving the forgiveness of others. Meaning we recognize the wrongs we have done and how we have committed to the breaking of relationships and in the power of the Spirit work to restore what has been broken. In doing this we live out the New Creation which produced the wounds that brought about peace.

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