Written by Michael Fones
Thursday, 24 May 2007 20:51
A fragment of the Gospel that many of us may hear this weekend caught my attention in a slightly new way this year. In John 20:21-23, we read,
"(Jesus) said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.'"
As is often pointed out in scripture commentaries, Jesus' act of breathing upon the disciples is
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a recapitulation or even fulfillment of God's imparting the breath of life to the lump of clay that becomes Adam in Genesis 2. Our Lord breathes a "new Spirit" and a new life into us at Pentecost - a new, supernatural life in Him that was lost in the Fall.
But what he says to them as a consequence of their receiving that Spirit also has links to the third chapter of Genesis, I believe.
In the temptation of Eve, the serpent responds to her protest that she and Adam will die if they eat of the forbidden fruit, "'You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.'"
Not only does he call God a liar, he promises that the fruit will make Eve and her husband like gods because of their knowledge. Knowledge in the Hebrew scriptures is often a euphemism for "carnal knowledge," an intimacy with the thing known. Certainly ever since we have had an intimate knowledge of what is bad; from wars, plague, all the vices, betrayals - the list seems endless.
But this passage from the Gospel of John fulfills that longing to be like God that our first parents and all their children since have had. Jesus says, "whose sins you forgive are forgiven them..."
In the story of the paralytic lowered through the roof and healed by Jesus, (as well as in other similar stories) the scribes are scandalized because Jesus says to the man (because of the faith of his friends), "Child, your sins are forgiven."
They ask, "Who but God alone can forgive sins?"
In their question and in the command of Jesus in the Gospel of Pentecost we discover what it is to truly be like God. We are given a share in His power to forgive.
It can seem rather disappointing. For the human being, becoming like God doesn't convey the power Hollywood imagines in movies like, "Bruce Almighty." Nor does it look like the seeming power over others to which despots cling. For us, becoming like God is simply a sharing in the power that Jesus last exercises in the Gospel of Luke from the cross: "Father, forgive them..." (Lk 23:34)
But for those who experience forgiveness where none was hoped for or deserved, it is an awesome power. It is the power that changes attitudes, perspectives, priorities. It is the power that changes our life in time - and for eternity.
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