Posts Tagged ‘Gospel of John’

About that weird stuff in “John’s Pentecost” from John 20

May 14, 2011

No spoiler alert necessary. None of the following will appear in my Vinebranch sermon tomorrow. It’s too technical, too lengthy, and maybe a little boring for a sermon (as opposed to a Bible study). Needless to say, I find it all terribly interesting. Maybe you will too. It’s about the same passage of scripture I’ll be preaching on: John 20:19-29.

The scripture includes an intriguing image in John 20:22: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” What does it mean to be “breathed on” by Jesus?

This scripture continues the New Creation imagery that I’ve discussed elsewhere (here and here). These words intentionally recall those words found back in Genesis Chapter 2, describing how God “breathed into the nostrils” of that first human being the “breath of life” (Gen 2:7). This breath that Jesus breathed into the disciples was the breath of new life. This was nothing less than the beginning of God’s new world, God’s new creation, and these disciples are being re-created. Jesus is sending his friends into the world to announce the good news of this new creation, which is beginning right now, in the here and now, and will be completed on the other side of our future resurrection.

This passage is sometimes called “John’s Pentecost,” because in John’s gospel, Jesus gives this group of disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit before his ascension—just as he does in Acts 2 after his ascension, while Jews are gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost.

The passage also includes the controversial verse 23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” What on earth does that mean? This has been a source of division in the Western church between Catholics and Protestants. Over the centuries, Catholics began interpreting this verse to mean that Jesus gave his apostles (and by extension their successors, ordained elders) a special role in forgiving sins—thus the Catholic sacrament of penance. Read the rest of this entry »