Believe in Resurrection: Forgiven to Forgive

John 20:19-23

Jesus appears to the disciples

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”


Thoughts on the passage:

Tautology is a term used in logic to define something that is true by necessity of its form.  “If you forgive someone’s sins they are forgiven” and “if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven” are both classic tautologies.  One states if X then X and the other states if not X then not X, which are like saying 2=2.  Yet despite that I think there is a great deal of depth and insight we can glean from that last statement as well as this whole passage as we consider how we are being challenged to believe in resurrection.

Let’s remember where we are in the Easter story.  In John, first the women and then Peter go to the tomb and discover it empty.  Mary then is greeted by the risen Christ.  While she has told the disciples of this fact, none of them as of yet have seen Jesus.  They had heard about the resurrection, but it was still had not totally become real.  As they gathered that evening they shut the doors against the outside world.  Still living in fear despite the good news they had heard.

It is into that upper room that Jesus enters, seemingly passing through the barriers they have erected.  He shows them his wounds, he gives them a message of peace, and then he gives them the Holy Spirit, empowering them.  His hope is that they might learn to forgive as he has.

I think there are a few things to take note of.  First, Jesus shows them the wounds from his death.  The resurrection is not like an eraser, getting rid of the damage that was caused in Christ’s death.  It is not like some big undo button pressed by God to cause everything to not have happened.  The pain, the loss, all of it was real.  The marks in Jesus’ body are a reminder of that.  What they also remind us is that in spite of the wounds that he carries, Jesus still forgives those who have harmed him.  By contrast the disciples clearly have not.  They are not ready to move past Christ’s death and forgive those who caused it.

“If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.”  It is a tautology, but one that we need to be reminded of.  Forgiveness is not a blanket thing; it is something that takes action.  We need to forgive for forgiveness to happen.  Jesus had forgiven those who killed him, he did it with some of his last words on the cross.  By contrast his followers were not yet ready to forgive.  They were still holding on.

There is a story about two Buddhist monks walking down the road.  They come to a river and saw a woman who is afraid to cross.  One of the monks lifts her up and carries her across the river and sets her down before continuing on his way.  His fellow monk follows in shocked silence.  Finally, hours later he manages the courage to speak.  He asks his fellow monk how he could break his vow to never touch a woman.  The first monk stops and tells him “I put the woman down when I finished crossing the stream, you are still carrying her with you.”

Forgiveness works in the same way, it only takes place when we are ready to set things down, to lay aside our grievances and grudges.  If we are not ready to forgive, then we cannot forgive.  The disciples were not yet ready to forgive.  They huddled in the upper room in fear.  They could not believe in resurrection and they could not believe in grace.  Not only were they not ready to forgive the Jewish authorities, they were not ready to forgive themselves.

Some people bear grudges and hold onto things.  They find it hard to let go of what others have done and forgive them.  I don’t tend to have that problem.  What I struggle with is forgiving myself.  It is easy to let go of what others have done and to try and love them as God does.  I find it much harder to love myself as God loves me.  The resurrection is about God’s grace that is available to all of us.  The problem is we have to believe in that resurrection.  Not just that Christ is alive again, but that his resurrection is a sign of God’s grace, a sign that we are forgiven.

Do you believe in resurrection?  We are given that same blessing as they are, to forgive and to be forgiven.  Through baptism our sins are washed away.  Through communion we are reminded over and over of God’s grace for us, even in the midst of our failings.  In spite of all that wass done to him, Christ returns, resurrected, bearing the marks of his suffering but offering grace in spite of it.  Are we ready to embrace him, to accept that grace and believe that resurrection and new life is possible?

Questions to Ponder:

Do you find it easier to forgive others or to forgive yourself?

What barriers do you put up out of fear in your life?

Who is someone you know who exemplifies the grace and forgiveness of the resurrected Christ?