Lectionary Year B
April 30, 2000
John 20:19-31

Step II: Disposition

This passage contains two Jesus appearance accounts in narrative form as well as a statement of purpose for their inclusion. Jesus precedes encounters with the disciples with the words "Peace to You" and even repeats these words as His purpose shifts to giving the disciples the Holy Spirit during the first visit. The mood of the text is testimonial as well as invitational.

Author's Intent: In this passage I see the purpose of the writer to be complex. There is an obvious attempt to meet some burden of proof as to the factual nature of these appearances by Jesus. There is a stated attempt to pursuade the reader to believe in things not seen, an invitational purpose. There is also a defining -- jurisdictional purpose as the disciples are clearly given great authority in this passage. There is another purpose which I can only feel- perhaps its my own heart only and not the writers- but there is a desperate feel to this passage for me as well. Perhaps its just the weight of the disciples state of mind.

Mystery of Jesus and these events: I wonder about the mystery contained in the passage. The ability of Jesus to get in and out of closed places (like the heart of Thomas) is an interesting concept. The fear and the hiding of the disciples and their thoughts during this period are great to ponder.

Hocus Pocus and Historical State of Mind: The focus on the words "Peace to you" is almost ritualistic, as if the words are part of some formula for a proper Jesus appearance. I wonder if Jesus is merely greeting the disciples or perhaps actually conferring peace to them as He conferred the Holy Spirit. It seems to indicate very well the state of mind of the disciples at this time(not at peace at all).

Theological Issue: The power of the disciples to forgive or retain the sins of others does not fit for me and the theology I carry. That is a problem to for me to address in this text.

Theological Issue: I wonder if Jesus breathed the Spirit into Thomas and gave him the power to forgive and retain sins like Jesus did the other disciples. If not, was this connected to his unbelief without first seeing. Seems unfair in the sense that the other disciples did not have to believe in the unseen either.

A Response from TWB
I noted the discomfort with the power to forgive in the writer's comments. I would suggest this is not so much a power as it is a privilege. The word "retain" is the powerful word "kratos": holding on to something even for one's own use. I believe that if we forgive the sins of another both giver and recipient are set free of the cosequenses. "If you forvive the sins of any they are forgiven."
We must ask if sins are retained, "By whom?" "If you do not forgive the sins of any they are retained." This speaks of the sin retained by the one who does not forgive; this no longer speaks of the one who committed the sin. From psychology we know that we tend to become the very things we hate. This verse is a bondage breaker; through forgiveness we can prevent sin to repeat itself in history from generation to generation.

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