By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
The Gospel lesson assigned today is one of only a handful of passages that we hear every single year. This is a simple way to elevate the passage as particularly important for the Church. It is the second time the resurrected Jesus appears in John’s Gospel. The first time is when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene after his empty tomb was discovered. Later that same day, in the evening, Jesus appears again. However, this time he appears inside the house where the disciples had regularly met. All the disciples, except for Thomas, were gathered in the house and hid behind locked doors, “...for fear of the Jews.”
Now their fear is a bit perplexing. Were they afraid that they too would be put to death, simply for being one of Jesus’ followers? Were they afraid because Mary Magdalene told them Jesus had risen from the dead, and they were clueless about what that meant for them and the Jesus Movement?Given the fact they had walked beside Jesus and learned directly from him that he would suffer, die, and rise again, why were they so afraid? Why weren’t they outside proclaiming the risen Lord? While we can’t be certain what was going on inside their own hearts, I am sure when we remember some of our own experiences with fear, we can relate to how easy it is for fear to suck us in and keep us down.
And maybe, it doesn’t matter why they were so afraid. After all, Jesus doesn’t stand outside the doors, and yell, “Get outside, right this minute--you guys know better!” Instead he somehow walks through the locked door, and says, “Peace be with you...” showing the disciples his hands and his side. He comes to them. He meets them where they are. Over and over again, Jesus meets us where we are, not where we are expected to be.
Now Thomas, also known as the Twin, or these days, Doubting Thomas, wasn’t there. When the other disciples told him of Jesus’ appearance, Thomas told them he wanted to put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side. It was the only way he would believe. Thomas was pragmatic, and he wanted the data to prove Jesus had really risen. A week later, Jesus appears and let's Thomas do just that. When he does, Thomas believes without a shadow of a doubt that this truly is the risen Lord. Again, Jesus comes directly to Thomas. He meets Thomas where he is, not expecting him to have more faith.
For the early Church this passage served as concrete proof of the Risen Lord. John’s Gospel was written sometime around the second century, when the early Church was beginning to debate the substance of Jesus--what part of him was God, what part of him was human? A couple hundred years later at the Council of Nicea, the Church agreed Jesus was both truly and fully God and human.We see this conservation play out in John’s Gospel. The doors were locked, yet the Risen Lord is both godly with his ability to walk through locked doors, and yet human in his physical wounds where they nailed him to the cross. Wounds that Thomas touched and put his own hand in.
As human beings, we are more data driven than ever. We like our evidence, our facts, our concrete proof. Whether we like to admit it or not, we too wish we could have a bit of concrete proof. Yet Jesus words in this passage are meant for us to hear. He says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That is us. That is each and every member of the Church today. We are here, believing, having faith even though we have not seen. And we are blessed all the more for it.
Another powerful part of this story takes place when Jesus first appears to the disciples. Jesus says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then, he breathed on them. As he breathed on them he said, “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.”
In John’s Gospel this is the the Great Commission and Pentecost all tied into one beautiful moment. Jesus is commissioning them to be ministers in the world, spreading the Good News of God’s mercy, compassion, and hope. He is acknowledging the power they have to both forgive and retain sins. Jesus is calling each and every one of his followers to forgive those who have sinned against us.
A contemporary translation of the same verse reads, “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” We all have the power and calling to forgive those who have hurt us, and we have the power to retain them. But as the contemporary translation states--what are you going to do with them if you don’t forgive?When we retain sins, it doesn’t just harm the offender because we withhold our forgiveness. Because sometimes our offender doesn't even realize they have offended us. Honestly, sometimes the offender could care less if we forgive them. But when we retain the sins of our offenders it most certainly harms us. Our faith calls us to forgive.
Think of our faith like a balloon. When we get hurt, our balloon blows up a bit, and we can either hold it tight, retaining the sin or we can release the sin by letting go and forgiving the offender. The counter pressure to the balloons urges us let go of the sins instead of retaining them. But, what happens to our balloon if we only retain others sins?
It gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it finally pops, shattering into pieces. The person we hurt the most when we don’t forgive our offenders is ourselves. Jesus calls us to release those sins by letting go and forgiving those who have hurt us. Even if we know our offender will hurt us again. This week, I encourage you to pray and reflect about your own faith, your own inner balloon. Are you retaining any sins, and if so, how might your faith help you to let them go? Amen.
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