Lectionary commentary: Pentecost Sunday

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READINGS

A reading from the Acts of the Apostle, 2:1-11

Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 104:1. 24. 29-31. 34. R/. cf v. 30

A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 12:3-7. 12-13

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John, 20:19-23



The word “holy” means “separate”, “otherness”, the defining quality of “the wholly other”. In the Bible and in religious understanding it is God’s intrinsic nature. God alone is holy. Holiness defines God and no other. It is the essence of God, that which that is totally other to all that is not God.

Yet everywhere, in our experience, in our Bibles, and in our prayer, we meet an “alien” God whose desire is to draw humanity to himself. His desire is to be with the family of men and women, to be in among them and to be for them.

Of course, the “otherness” of God must be acknowledged:

Who is like you, O Lord [YHWH], among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders

Exodus 15:11

There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.

First Book of Samuel 2:2

Holy, holy, holy is the
Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!

Isaiah 6:3

Yet there is a commandment laid upon those slaves who emerged from the fleshpots of Egypt:

For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

Leviticus 11:45

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

Leviticus 19:2

We have been much engaged with the First Letter of Peter. In our Sunday readings this last few weeks we narrowly missed out on this bit:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

I Peter 1:14-15


Holy Spirit

How can the utterly otherness of God be shared with the sons and daughters of humanity? The beginning of the answer is in the beginning of our Bible:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1-2

The determination of the Holy One, the longing of the Father, to make divine steadfast love known said to that hovering Spirit,

Let there be light!
and there was light!

Genesis 1:3

The conversation thus began. The impetus to create is brought to being by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Holiness. The Holy Spirit is that urgent insistence of God to be with those who walk the face of the earth. The slaves meandering across the desert to the Promised Land stand for all of us:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession.

Deuteronomy 7:6

To be God’s treasured possession is both privilege and responsibility. Consider the vocation of the man called Jesus:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

Luke 4:18-19

His vocation was announced to the mother of the child:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God.

Luke 1:35

It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God’s holiness, that sees this child safely into the world. When confronted with a choice, Simon Peter answered for us all:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.

John 6:68-69

We are all transformed into holiness by holiness.

St. Paul, our very first Christian writer, addresses “you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6). By way of clarification, he explains that such as are called are loved by God are “called to be saints” (Romans 1:7). This, says Paul, is affected by “the Spirit of holiness”.

To be a saint, a holy one, is a gift, a privilege, and a vocation:

you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I Corinthians 6:11

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

II Thessalonians 2:13

The unsettled peoples addressed in I Peter are transformed into God’s holiness “by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven (I Peter 1:12). They must realise that before they became victims of a cruel society (however this came about), they were forged in the furnace of God’s love. This “separate”, this “alien” God stamped them with the Spirit of Holiness and claimed them for his own.


Church

To be transformed into God’s holiness is not, however, to be made into a private saint. God’s gift of God’s holiness becomes a reality in a community of people.

Do you not know that you are God's Temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's Temple, God will destroy him. For God's Temple is holy, and you are that Temple.

I Corinthians 3:17

“You” here is emphatically plural. The Temple in Jerusalem was a dwelling place of God’s Presence. It was destroyed by the imperial power of Rome. For St. Paul, there is a new people of God, a new Temple, a new dwelling-place of God’s Presence. It is, however, not a locked house, as if in the world but not of it:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Romans 12:9-13

What the Holy Spirit does is to create and sustain a community of holy people (”saints”) who serve as Jesus did. The purpose of serving Jesus as Jesus served is to expose the peoples of the world to a foundational fact. On the days of creation nothing that was made came into unholiness:

God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 1:31

To be churched, as we use to say, is to be enlisted in the vanguard of the holy. But this conscription means becoming part of a community of people that serves the world, that looks to its needs, and that sees to heal its pain. To proclaim the message of the Jesus is to tell the world the story of God’s holiness and to celebrate that everyone is possessed by the Spirit of Holiness. Or, as Eugene O’Neill put it, “all God’s chillun got wings”.



A reading from the Acts of the Apostles, 2:1-11

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude
came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

The word of the Lord.

[A note on our Lectionary version of today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles:

Since all the readings in our Lectionary are excerpts sometimes a few words are inserted at the beginning of a reading in order to make sense. Thus many readings begin with “Jesus said to his disciples” (as in the reading from Matthew 5:38-48). Now the “Jesus said to his disciples” is not in the Bible. The reading is part of the Sermon on the Mount and this is just an excerpt. But the inclusion helps us to know where we are. However, often there is a price to pay. In the example I have given there is a price to pay for helpful clarity. Actually the Sermon was preached to the disciples and to the crowds. We win some, but we lose some, in the necessity to make good sense and those of us in the pews know where we are.

There is a Latin word “incipit” that means “it begins” and these helpful introductions are called “incipits”. Pope Benedict XVI insisted the incipits were not to be removed and must be inserted in all new Lectionaries. But there is a price to pray.

Consider the “incipit” at the beginning of our Lectionary reading today from the Acts of the Apostles:

When Pentecost day came around, the apostles had all met in one room …

Now consider the opening to this same reading for today’s feast-day in the [Anglican] Revised Common Lectionary, based, as its Introduction declares, on the 1969 Roman Lectionary and used in many Anglican churches through out the world:

When the day of Pentecost had come,
they were all together in one place.

Notice the difference. The Catholic Lectionary with its incipit indicates that only the apostles received the Holy Spirit, whereas the text of Acts in our New Testament says clearly that “they were all together in one place”. That is, we are told, all those in that upper room, the apostles, … together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers and sisters … the company of persons was in all about 120. Luke’s description of this amazing event ends with these words:

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:4

A case can be made that the Holy Spirit descended only on the apostles. But it is, in my opinion, a poor one. There were no apostles around at the beginning of Luke’s story, yet had the Holy Spirit rested there would be no Zechariah, no Mary, no Elizabeth, no Simeon, no story to tell.


Luke's Holy Spirit

Luke’s writings, his Gospel and the Acts, are more concerned with the Holy Spirit than any other single book in the New

Testament. From his very first chapter we are invited to see the Holy Spirit at work and, surprise, surprise, in the mind and heart of an unmarried young woman engaged to a man whose name was Joseph. Her name was Mary:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy …

Luke 1:35

No sooner has the Holy Spirit come upon the young woman than there is an old woman and she, too, is of interest to the Holy Spirit:

when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

Luke 1:41-42

Luke is careful not to discriminate. Where there are women, young and old, filled with the Holy Spirit, there must be men:

Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied …

Luke 1:67

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.

Luke 2:25-35

Finally, the last witness to give thanks to God that in this child redemption has come to earth, Luke ends his infancy story with an eighty-four year old widow who is a prophet and as such filled with the Holy Spirit. She ends Luke’s magnificent drama of the conception and birth of Jesus on precisely the note Luke in his writings wishes to instil: to give thanks to God and to proclaim:

She began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting …

Luke 2:38

So the very first introductory pages of Luke’s Gospel offer hope. Three women, one young and two old, an old priest of the Jerusalem Temple and an old man in his dying years are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Then look at the children! First, the son of the old priest:

the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah
in the
wilderness.

Luke 3:2

John did not proclaim himself but points to the one who will gift the Holy Spirit:

He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Luke 3:16

As all the people were being baptised by John, Jesus, too, was baptised. But his baptism resounded in the heavenly places:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

Luke 3:21-23

Now Luke’s readers and hearers know who he is: the beloved Son. This beloved Son comes from the Jordan “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1) and “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) returned north to Nazareth, to his local synagogue and to reveal his vocation:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

Luke 4:18-19

The Holy Spirit has carried us from an old man saying his prayers to a Son proclaiming a new world, a gospel to the poor, promising liberty to captives, sight to the blind, liberty to the oppresseda new world designed by the Lord God and promised by the Holy Spirit in the soul of Isaiah.

The Holy Spirit will not leave the beloved Son:

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Luke 10:21

Yet this Holy Spirit is the exclusive possessor of the Spirit:

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Luke 11:11-13

We might remember at this point that the Holy Spirit came to Jesus in his praying (Luke 3:21) and keep in mind that all the people in that upper room were “devoting themselves to prayer “ (Acts 1:14).


A Church Created

The word “holy” occurs 20 times in Luke’s Gospel, nearly always in reference to the Holy Spirit. In Luke’s second work, the Acts, the word occurs 53 times. All who were praying in that upper room became the first community of Jesus people, created and empowered by the Holy Spirit. That gathering who became a church stand for all down through the centuries are gifted with the Holy Spirit. Every generation is called to undertake the mission to which the man from Nazareth, filled with the Holy Spirit, committed himself in the power of the Holy Spirit.



Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 104:1. 24. 29-31. 34. R/. cf v. 30

R/. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.

Bless the
Lord, O my soul!
O Lord, my God, you are very great!
O
Lord, how manifold are your works!
the earth is full of your creatures. R/.

W
hen you take away their breath, they die.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created
and you renew the face of the earth. R/.


May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works,
May my meditation be pleasing to
him,
for I rejoice in the Lord. R/.

Psalm 134 is an explosion of ecstasy. The poet eyes the wonders of God and the stewardship of God over the whole of creation. The earth is full of creatures that come from the creative hand of God. To bless the Lord is to utter praise, to give thanks from the heart. To bless God is to look to the heavens in gratitude for what has come to earth from the heart of God. When this singer of songs looks at all that God’s wisdom has designed for humanity and humanity’s home, wonder and awe and thanksgiving pour out in recognition that the whole world is filled with God’s riches.

God forbid that God should hide his face from our home. For then the very breath of life would be stopped and “unto dust you shall return”.

But such fears are stilled for,

when you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.

Psalm 104:30

Faith and hope fill our prayer that earth that not tremble nor mountains quake. As long as I live (says the poet), as long as I draw breath, may my thoughts be on the good Lord and my joy in him unconfined.



A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 12:3-7. 12-13

I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in ev
eryone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

The word of the Lord.

No one possessed by the Spirit of God can declare,

JESUS IS ANATHEMA!

Only one possessed by the Spirit of God can declare,

JESUS IS LORD!

Let the preacher beware! There are at least 12 explanations of the exclamation “Jesus is Anathema”, in itself and in association with “Jesus is Lord!” There is the further problem of trying to see how these cries fit into the context of Paul’s concerns at this point in his letter to his little churches of Christians in Corinth. What I write here should be taken as provisional. By my count it is explanation number 13.

Paul has his own exclamation that might have been written on the back of his tee-shirt:

WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED!

I Corinthians 1:23

Paul’s main objective in his letter is that there be no divisions sundering the unity of Jewish and Gentile folk that made up the community of Christians in Corinth:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarrelling among you, my brothers and sisters.

I Corinthians 1:10-11

Notice that the “brothers ands sisters” are mentioned twice. In chapter after chapter Paul confronts the issues causing discontent and division. By scolding and entreaty, as father and authority, by praise and condemnation, Paul brings these exasperating but much loved Christians to the Lord’s Supper. This is the first mention of the Lord’s Supper in the whole story of Christianity. The ultimate heartbreak for Paul is that,

when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.

I Corinthians 11:18

He is forced to confront his fractious brothers and sisters:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.

I Corinthians 11:27

But Paul insists: You can do better than this. In his disappointment he is inspired to paint another possibility:

love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I Corinthians 13:4-7

Before he came to his meditation on love Paul gave a less beautiful but equally discerning insight, much needed to move our Corinthian brothers and sisters from acrimony to love:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

I Corinthians 12:12-13

Thus we come to the ultimate division, the ultimate cause of all division in the Corinthian churches and in ours. For the deepest and most intractable division is to dismiss, to ignore, to shun, to abandon, to deny the gift of the Holy Spirit. To borrow from the Gospel of John a vision of the Spirit of truth that the Father will give on the return of the Son when he is glorified:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:12-15

What Paul has doneand this may be more my heart then my headis, in an amazing literary flourish, taken two utterly opposed positions, a militant paganism and a charismatic Christianity. But he had the insight first to display theological his tee-shirt:

WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED.

Of course, as Paul freely admits, this is ”a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).

To those who are not taught by the Holy Spirit, crucifixion is not the path to wisdom. These Jesus people in Corinth

not many of you were wise according to worldly standards.

I Corinthians 1:26

Not many can grasp the jump from a crucified Jesus to resurrection and so the Jesus who is Lord. To make that leap of faith, you need the Holy Spirit. Try with our early fathers and mothers in Corinth to grasp this:

we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is
himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

I Corinthians 2:7-15

It is the Spirit of God, the Spirit given us freely by God, that enables us to understand. We have been given this Spirit by God. We are taught by the Spirit. It is this teaching that empowers us to move from Jesus is Anathema to Jesus is Lord.

This is a teaching that can be grasped only in the discipline of prayer.



A reading from the holy Gospel according to John, 20:19-23

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.

The Gospel of the Lord.


Behind locked doors

As we have observed before, the stories of appearances of Jesus that follow the meeting with Mary Magdalene have a recognisable common structure. This may be recognised in how each story is developed. Three questions are posed in each event:

  1. What did Jesus take away?
  2. What did Jesus give?
  3. What sign is in each story?

It is important to be aware of the setting of each of the incidents. The first appearance of Jesus to the disciples takes place in an atmosphere of fear. There are locked doors. Within are disciples of Jesus overcome with “fear of the Jews”. Though doors are locked, “Jesus came and stood among them”. His first words removed fear:

Peace be with you.

Peace instantly replaces fear and “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord”. To confirm the transformation from fear to glad tranquillity, Jesus repeats,

Peace be with you.

Peace breaks into John’s Gospel in chapter 14 when Jesus is engaged in his final and extensive teaching of his disciples. Having washed their feet and explained the meaning of that extraordinary act of love, there was much to explain. But while enlightenment must be left to the Holy Spirit, there is, in his final words, a promise:

Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give do I give to you.

John 14:27

The final words of the long address (John 14:1 to 16:33) to his bewildered disciples are these:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

The gift of peace is not simply the removal of fear. It is the sure and certain conviction that the peace given by Jesus and sustained by the Holy Spirit is peace with and from God. It is peace that cannot be undone and cannot be gainsaid by the dark ways of the world.

However the peace that God-in-Jesus gives is not a safe haven from the ways of the world. To be in God’s peace is to share in God’s responsibility for the world. Disciples have to become people who are sent:

As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

John 20:21

Of course disciples are not sent naked into the world. They are not called to be Jesus in the world without divine strength:

Receive the Holy Spirit.

John 20:22

With God’s peace comes responsibility. Disciples must be messengers of forgiveness.

To sum up,

What then is taken away is fear.

What is given is peace.

The sign is the sending our though those locked doors.


Forgiveness: given and withheld

For the last two thousand years Christians of every hue have discussed the matter of forgiveness as enjoined on the disciples. There is no agreement as to what Jesus meant. To be sure, that Christian churches must proclaim God’s forgiveness is beyond doubt. It is the meaning of withholding forgiveness that causes discussion, shedding more heat than light. While an extensive account of the debates is not appropriate here I would suggest the following factors that ought to be considered.

First, in the text of John’s Gospel Jesus is speaking to frightened disciples who have been transformed by God-given peace. There are no apostles in John’s Gospel (the word never occurs there). Disciples are those whose feet have been washed, whose fear has been overcome, and whose lives are delivered into peace. That is to say, all who are aligned to the enterprise of Jesus in the world must do as Jesus did (and does) in the name and power of the Father. The word “forgive” occurs nowhere in John’s Gospel except in this sentence. But if we listen to what Jesus says, if we observe what he does, we will come to know what disciples must do if they are to give to the world the peace that has been given them. To those who believed in him Jesus said,

If you abide in my word, you are my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

John 8:31-32

The word of Jesus is true and its destiny is to set people free, to undo fear and to make peace. Indeed, the man sent by God whose name was John (John 1:6) bore witness:

Behold! the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1:29

The business of Jesus, the business of disciples, is to unburden the world of its sin, to expose sin to God’s light, to recognise its destructive force, and to invite the world to be born again into eternal life, not in the hereafter, but in the now of our lives (see John 3:1-15).

But do not stop when you have read as far as 3:15. Meditate on what comes next:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

John 3:16-21

We must begin here: God so loved the world. God’s light in the world exposes the darkness of the world. To prefer that darkness to light is to fly in the face of the truth that sets human beings free.

Perhaps the words of Matthew’s prayer of the Lord may help us to understand:

Forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us.

Matthew 6:12

Forgiveness is powerless where there is no understanding of what it means to be forgiven. To be forgiven is to experience God; to forgive is to act with the graciousness of God.

Perhaps the locked doors may furnish a clue. The risen Jesus passes through the locked doors. They are locked yet he passes through. His disciples were locked in fear. But fear cannot resist the peace that Jesus gives. The only thing that can withstand that peace is a locked heart, a closed mind, and the fear that is afraid of the responsibility of forgiveness.


Dr. Joseph O’Hanlon.