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 Judeans, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Translation: Therefore, being evening of that day, the first of sabbath, the doors having been shut where the disciples were because of the fear of the Judeans, Jesus came and stood in the midst and he said to them, "Peace to you." And when he said this, he showed to them the hands and the side. Then, the disciples rejoiced, seeing the Lord. Then, Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you. Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed and said to them, "Receive the holy spirit. If you release the sins of any, they have been released to them, and if you might hold (the sins) of any, they have been held."
Background and situation: It is the evening of Easter. The doors "had been shut" by the disciples because of their fear of the Judeans (ioudaioi). Fear of the Judeans would not be unreasonable, considering that Jesus had just been crushed by Judean forces.
To recap from other posts on the fourth gospel, the fourth gospel is an argument between a Galilean and a Judean worldview. The Judean worldview, in a nutshell, is the view from the top, i.e. the Temple leadership and their allies, the ruling families of Jerusalem, and, in turn, their allies, the Romans. The Judean position is marked by division and barriers--rich vs. poor, Jew vs. Samaritan, insider vs. outsider.
The New Creation: Our lection is Pentecost according to the Fourth Gospel. The Lukan account in Acts has become so associated as the Pentecost story that the fourth gospel's view is often given short shrift. The fourth gospel also speaks of the coming of the Spirit, though in a much different way than in Luke. In the fourth gospel, there is no amorphous wind or forty day waiting period, and the Spirit comes directly from the breath of Jesus on the day of the New Creation.
The fourth gospel speaks of "signs" which are presented in order to encourage faith in Jesus (20: 30-31). The various "signs," and their numbering, are open to interpretation, but N.T. Wright arranges them thus:
1. Wedding at Cana (2: 1-11)
2. The official's son (4: 46-54)
3. The paralyzed man at the pool (5: 2-9)
4. Multiplication of loaves (6: 1-14)
5. The man born blind (9: 1-7)
6. Raising of Lazarus (11: 1-44)
7. Crucifixion (19: 1-37)
8. Resurrection (20: 1-29)
In first century number symbolism, seven (7) was commonly thought to be the number of completion and wholeness--the "number of God," says Eugene Peterson. The first seven "signs" therefore, taken together, give us a "complete" picture of Jesus. He is the one who brings life in abundance, healing for outsiders, true sight, then raises the dead, and dies for the love of the world. The resurrection is the 8th sign--the sign of the "new creation."
The fourth sign, incidentally, since it is equidistant from both the first and the last sign, is sometimes considered the "central point." The fourth gospel's "central point" is the abundant life and power of Jesus, which is represented by the feeding of the 5000.
The Peace of Christ: In spite of the locked doors, Jesus "came and stood in the midst" and said "peace to you." Previously, Jesus had spoken of "peace" in 14: 27 and 16: 33--both times as an antidote to fear. "My peace I leave with you," Jesus says in 14: 27. Therefore, do not let your hearts be afraid. In 16:33, Jesus says that he has said "these things" to the disciples so that they may have peace. Therefore, "take courage; I have conquered the world."
Jesus displays his wounds, now healed and glorified. This establishes continuity between the historical person Jesus, and the resurrected Jesus. Though he is different in some ways, such as the ability to appear at will, he is also in continuity with the Jesus the disciples had known historically. In fact, he is recognized not on the basis of his over-all appearance, but precisely on the basis of his wounds.
If Paul is correct that we will have a body like his glorified body (Ph 3: 21), then, even in our glorified body, we will also be our historical selves. We will be the same people whose personality was formed in this world--we will be us--but now all of us, including our psychology, will be healed and transformed just as Jesus' wounds were healed and transformed.
The reference to Jesus' hands also reminds readers that God "had given all things into his hands" (3: 35). The disciples are safe. They are in good hands, you might say.
The reference to his side refers to the spear of the Roman soldier after the death of Jesus, from which had flowed both blood and water. The water reminds us of the "living water" spoken of in the dialog with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter four. Moreover, "blood and water" are reminiscent of birth. The "blood and water" flowing from the side of Jesus gives birth to the New Community.
The disciples rejoice at "seeing the Lord." This is reminiscent of the witness of Mary Magdalene who had said, "I have seen the Lord." Jesus says again, "Peace to you." The two statements of peace frame the action of Jesus in showing his hands and side. It is on this basis, his wounds, that peace is won.
The Breath of Life: Jesus shifts immediately to mission--"As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then, "he breathed on them." The disciples are given power from the divine breath. The Greek word translated as "breathed" is emphusao. It is the same word the Septuagint uses in Genesis 2: 7: "And the Lord God...breathed into (Adam's) nostrils the breath of life."
The fourth gospel's use of emphusao is the only use of this word in the entire New Testament. Clearly, the author of the fourth gospel is equating the breath of Jesus with the breath of God. Where the Lord God breathed life into a human being, the Lord Jesus breathes life into his church. This underlines the fourth gospel's view that Jesus is the "new creation," and is yet another of the fourth gospel's many references to the book of Genesis.
For the fourth gospel, the method of atonement is precisely through re-creation. Jesus dies on the cross, which is, paradoxically, the hour of glory. He is placed in a tomb, the place of death, and also the place of new creation coming forth from the earth. His appearance as a gardener (20:15) reminds readers of the original garden of Genesis, now re-created through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
"If you release the sins of any, they are released," says Jesus, and "if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." This is not a parallel for a similar saying in Matthew. There is nothing here about eternal "binding and loosing."
Rather, the New Community is to be characterized by the forgiveness, the "release," of sins. Conversely, if sins are not forgiven, they are "retained" within the community, thereby threatening the community's life.