Reflection from Sunday's Gospel Lesson
John 20.19-31. It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
This has to be my favorite Gospel passage! But the reason I like it isn’t because it’s the one where poor Thomas gets it. Everyone always talks about “doubting Thomas” but no one seems to remember just a short time prior to this story, when the Jewish authorities were looking for any excuse of capturing and killing Jesus, Thomas said, “Let us go [to Judea] so that we may die with Jesus” (John 11.16). That wasn’t James or John or Peter. That was Thomas the “doubter”. How soon we forget.
Nor is it about Thomas not touching Jesus. Oh, I know what people say. I’ve heard the sermons and seen the paintings. But no where does the passage actually state that Thomas touched him. In fact, upon closer examination, it’s quite clear that Thomas didn’t touch Jesus. After Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus said, “Do you believe because you see me?” The image to me is that of Jesus appearing before them suddenly. Then, looking at Thomas, tells him to touch him. But Thomas falls to his knees right where he stands and exclaims, “My Lord and my God”. He didn’t need to touch him. Jesus’ reply indicates that Thomas didn’t touch him but believed because of seeing him.
But this isn’t about that either. No, it’s about the first part of this passage. The commissioning of the disciples in verses 21 and 22:
“Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
In this passage is the haunting command of commission. And not just commission to carry on the ministry of Jesus. No. This is the command to be Jesus. He said to them, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” How did the Father-Mother send Jesus? It’s almost like John is inviting us to re-read his Gospel, paying closer attention to the story and seeing how he acted and reacted to those around him. We are to go and do likewise.
Let’s remember this when we read just the first few sentences from the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. There we see that the “Word of God” became the human being, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was telling the disciples, that is, those of us whom follow him, that we, too, are to be the “Word of God” in human form. We are to be the place where God’s realm and our realm merge. We are to be the place where people’s sins are forgiven. That’s huge! That’s why I said it’s haunting. We are to be the Word of God to those we come in contact with.
The question is: Do we see ourselves in this way? Do we realize that we are to be the place where God’s realm and our realm over-laps and interlocks? Do we understand the ramifications of being a follower of Jesus? Every time a person becomes a follower of Jesus, the world should become a little more like Jesus. That is, there should be another place where God’s presence is clearly evident on earth. But do we understand it that way?
I’m not saying that we accomplish this by our own power. After Jesus commissions his followers, we’re told that “[He] breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” The Holy Spirit is the key to the whole thing. The Spirit is the one whom empowers us to live the life of God today. Right now. In the harsh world around us, followers of Jesus need to be places of rest and comfort. We need to be the place where people come to know God’s love and grace. We need to be lights in the darkness. We need to be the ones mirroring God to those around us. Our lives are to reflect the “message of reconciliation” - the truth that, because of Jesus, God is “not counting people’s sins against them” (2Corinthians 5.19).
This dovetails nicely with what I wrote in Reflection: 04-11. Jesus said that people would know us by our fruit, that is, by how we live our lives. And he stated very plainly what our lives are to be like in the Sermon on the Mount (or the Plain).
My prayer during this resurrection season is that the Holy Spirit will illumine our hearts and minds to this truth and then empower us to live it. May God grant us the power to be Jesus to the world around us.
In the Love of the Three in One,