Lectionary Year B
April 27, 2003
John 20:19-31

Step V: Distillation


      The two uses of the word "sent" in this gospel and in our passage lead me to place importance on this verse and its surrounding circumstances. The message I hear is that we are being sent as messengers of Christ's gospel. It is problematic that the end of our passage states the purpose of these writings as "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." However, one can still focus on the theme of being a messenger if you feel the final verse speaks of the whole gospel and not just the appearance passages before it.

      The thrust of being a messenger occurs as the author writes to an audience that would have been under some pressure not to speak out. The readers were likely and rightly scared of the forces of government and, like Thomas, doubting(at least fighting over) the claims of Christianity. Yet Jesus has the mysterious ability to get in and out of closed places where we hide and to give us the peace we need to come out.

      As we come out, the Holy Spirit will be with us giving us truth as well as a higher authority to do God's work than any force we must face in the completion of God's work. This seems evident by the giving of the Spirit in our passage with its authority to forgive and retain sins as well as by the giving of Peace from Jesus Christ.


Verse 21: Again Jesus said, "peace to you. As the Father has sent me(on a divine mission as savior), I am sending you(on a divine mission as messengers)."


      The account of the huddled disciples and the account of the doubting Thomas are very much like the lives of Christians. Christ gives us the Holy Spirit which brings authority and peace so that we might fulfill the divine mission to be a messenger. We give Christ our fears and doubts. Many fear even to express their faith in the church itself(won't pray, won't sing, won't ...) There is little doubt that they will ever be much of a messenger outside the "locked doors" of the church. Many are voicing their faith within the walls of the church, but are worried about doing so in the other contexts of their lives. And many simply doubt the foundational truth of Christ crucified and resurected.

      The bridge issue is what makes a messenger. Why do we choose Fed Ex over UPS? What do we like and dislike about messengers and letter carriers? What do we admire about them? What are the stories about messages that did not get delivered or that did not get correctly sent (i.e. for want of a mail carrier...and/or properly conveying to the world the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ)?

      For Christians it is the Holy Spirit that makes a good messenger. It brings authority and the peace of Christ. With it we can unlock the doors of the church and be recognized as believers in the face of the condemnation of the world.

      The reading of commentaries has given me a deeper look into the life of Thomas after this account and so I would add here that Thomas, as a future messenger, gives the example here of the person who counts the cost and is slow to commit, but once decided is unmoveable in his purpose. Like the letter carrier who delivers come rain, sleet, or snow.

(FS) Some interaction with BE --

      Last paragraph, on Holy Spirit giving us truth, authority to do God's work, and authority to forgive and retain sins --

      As you stated in step II, our being given leave to retain or forgive sins is a struggling point for many (me too). Interesting that in the Gospel of John this pericope is given as the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his closest disciples -- they have for the most part just failed him, denied him, and now cower in hiding behind a locked door, but he still greets them with peace. They are apparently forgiven, and are about to be commissioned as messengers. Is there an example of how his messengers are to forgive rather than retain sin? Can we today be as compassionate with those who have failed us, or "sinned" against us?

      Thomas is indeed an example of a person slow to commit, but who plows ahead with the task once convinced. It's interesting (and homiletically fertile ground) that he's frank about his doubts. That doesn't seem to disqualify him from messenger duty, once those doubts are answered.

(BJSW) This is a comment about the gospel passage for April 30:

In the wake of the recent cult suicides, today's passage seems suitable for some hermeneutical connections. A common response to the cult theology is, "How can anyone believe such nonsense!" And yet, here's Thomas in the same boat. Perhaps we can gain insight into the mood of the disciples as we muse over the responses to outlandish cults. Haven't Christians been accused of the very same title?

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