The reading today is John 20:19-23.
19 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." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
I’m writing this when we are still in a shutdown when so many people have had to live isolated from others. It reminds me of how the Jews were hiding in fear behind locked doors.
Yet Jesus broke through their doors of fear – and Jesus does so today too!
Jesus offers his disciples peace, evidence of his resurrection in his wounded hands and side, and a commission to continue his ministry, to be sent into the world even as He was sent. Jesus does the same for us disciples today!
Jesus also promises his disciples that if they forgive the sins of others, those sins will be forgiven, and if they retain the sins of others, those sins will be retained. This verse has often puzzled me. It sounds like Jesus has given us Christians the authority to decide who is forgiven of which sins – and who is not!
I don’t think Jesus meant to set us up as mini-gatekeepers of forgiveness. In the biblical Greek, to “forgive” means to “let go” and to “retain” means to “hang onto”. I think Jesus is telling his disciples not to hang onto their judgments or anger about others’ sins, but to let go of their judgmental attitudes or desire for revenge.
Several translators have instead offered these paraphrases of Jesus’ words: If you hang onto the sins of others, you’re stuck with them and what good will they do for you!
This makes sense for the situation at the time. The disciples could have hung onto the sins of those who crucified Jesus or persecuted them. They could have even spent their time and energy trying to get even, to strike back and get a rough justice. But what good would that have done? Instead the disciples were to spend their time and energy sharing Jesus’ message of God’s love and forgiveness. This they did.
And so should we!
Prayer: Almighty, crucified and risen Christ, help us share your forgiveness today.
Pastor Lanny Westphal firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayer Concern: those who hang onto grudges and resentments for past wrongs.