You will be my witnesses. JOHN 20:19-23
By June Renie
This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.
On the day of Pentecost, while the disciples were in the closed room, Jesus came and stood among them. Realising they were startled and frightened and thought they were seeing a spirit; He immediately began to put their minds at ease.
John tells us that Jesus uttered just one word. “Shalom” which is interpreted, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20: 20–21). This is the first word of the ascended Christ and He uttered it twice in the room—the second time after showing them His hands and His side. By this, the disciples recognised that He was Jesus and all that mattered was that He was present, in their midst and they “were filled with joy”.
To the Jews, the word “shalom” was a common greeting but, in this instance, there was a deeper meaning in that Jesus used it to calm, restore and strengthen their faith.
This message of peace is the most defining message of the gospel. It was given to the disciples when they needed it most. They were behind closed doors, hiding from fear of the Jews and without their resurrected Master who they had witnessed being assumed into Heaven.
He had told them before that unless He returned to the Father, they could not receive the Holy Spirit. “When the advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father… he will be my witness and you too will be witnesses…” (Jn 15:26).
Then He said to His disciples, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you” and He breathed on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit… whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; and those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”
The disciples received the Holy Spirit. It represents a new birth and a baptism that made the disciples a new creation, formed by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.
Many have tried to interpret these words, “whose sins you forgive they are forgiven …” (Jn 20:23). Truth is, it reflects the very core of the gospel message, truth that a person is forgiven through having faith in Jesus, as their Lord and Saviour.
As Peter informs in Acts 10:43–44 “… all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.” We understand that only God forgives sins, and Jesus to whom all power is given also has the authority to forgive sins being God the Son.
The exhortation continues, “as the Father sent me, so am I sending you” (Jn 20:23). Then He breathed on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”
Since He was no longer going to be with the disciples, He promised that God would be with them in the person of the Holy Spirit living in them. Therefore, as the disciples proclaimed the gospel, they had authority to tell people who believed the message that their sins were forgiven. Alternatively, those who did not believe could be told their sins were not forgiven and stood condemned in the eyes of God.
As Jesus said, “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever refuses to believe in the Son will never see life and the anger of God stays with him” (Jn 3:33).
It is an awesome responsibility for those who proclaim the gospel; it and can only be accepted with knowledge that the Holy Spirit is within us.
Today this mission is given to us as believers. We are obligated to share the truth of the gospel that forgiveness of sins comes through faith in Jesus. We are to forgive our brothers and sisters because of the undeserved love and forgiveness, at high personal cost to Himself that He gave us; thus, we must have no unforgiveness in our hearts for each other. It is through forgiveness that we are shown to have eternal life in us.
Father, give us the grace to forgive each other as you forgave us, that we may remain branches of the true vine and bear much fruit.
The gospel meditations for May are by June Renie, a retired law librarian and a graduate of the Catholic Bible Institute. She is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist at St Anthony’s parish, Petit Valley.
Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash