Thursday, May 25, 2017

I Send You

John 20:19-23, one of the brief gospel lessons appointed for the Day of Pentecost, is a familiar story without the familiar figure of Thomas.  This brief lesson merely reports the giving of the Holy Spirit in John's simple way, and stops with the promise that our ability to forgive or retain sins is somehow contained in our reception of the Holy Spirit.  Is that good news or not?

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but meant to supplement other questions which an exegete may ask. These questions center on concerns of Law and Gospel preachers.  For a more thorough explanation of this genre of preaching, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word functions in every way as gospel.  First, Jesus comes amongst the disciples despite their best attempts to lock him out.  Then he extends his peace to them and shows them his wounds, assuring them that he is the Crucified One.  Finally he breathes on them, inspiring within them the Holy Spirit.  All of this is gift, pure gospel.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is little Law here. One piece of evidence for the disciples' need of the gospel is the statement that "the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews."  This clearly shows their fear and their need for a visitation by Christ to quiet those fears.  Yet there is no condemnation of the disciples for this fear.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We always identify with those whom the Word addresses, be it gospel or law.  In this text we are the disciples.  We are those who cower behind locked doors, who need a word of peace, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  We are also those whom the Lord has sent out to bear the good news of Christ.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience here is the statement by Jesus that we are sent out.  We are equipped by the Holy Spirit for service and witness, and with that we are sent out into the world to continue the work that Christ began.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  There can only be one couplet in this short text:  cowering behind locked doors/equipped and sent out boldly into the world.

6.  Exegetical work:  Peter Ellis, in his unique commentary on John's Gospel, highlights the parallels here between Genesis 2:7 where God breathed life into the first human, and here where in Christ "everything is being made new." (II Cor 5:17)  Ellis writes:  "Symbolically, John is speaking about the commission of the apostles as a new creation - a new beginning and a new world.  It is worthy of note that the Gospel began with a reference to the first creation in the prologue (1:1-3); here it ends with a reference to the new creation brought about by Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection."  (The Genius of John, p. 293).  Lamar Williamson offers an important commentary on the final verse in this pericope, regarding forgiveness of sins.  He reminds us that these words are to be understood in the context of the community of faith:  "This word of the risen Lord in the present text can therefore be read as descriptive:  if members of the community forgive one another their sins, those sins are forgiven and the community is living from and in the Spirit of Jesus; but if members of the community harbor grudges and resentment toward other members who have sinned against them, then those sins remain to spoil the bond of unity, and the Spirit of Jesus is no longer resident in the community.  (Preaching the Gospel of John, p. 283)

Blessings on your proclamation!

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