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John 20:19-31

Being the youngest of three boys, I could never match my brother’s physically so I compensated verbally. I don’t like to think of myself as violent, but when I was pinned down by one of my brothers, unable to wrestle out what felt like an eternal death grip[1], I had two options; 1) the obviously more pathetic option to scream for a parent or 2) fight back with my tongue.

It didn’t take all too long to develop a sharp tongue that could bruise deeper than any “accidental” fist to the shoulder. And it wasn’t just young-sibling-annoyance. I learned how to get under my brothers’ skin with just a few quick quips. I knew what would really really irk them. And I knew if I said something in front of some specific person (like their girlfriend) I could really dig deep.

While older siblings use the “stop hitting yourself” tactic, young siblings have a verbal equivalent. Rather than forcing their hand in their own face, we learned to force their own frustration upon themselves. Here is what you do; at the slightest bit of irritation you simply say to them, “Why are you so mad?” With increasing frustration and growing volume your older sibling will insist that he is not mad, but you hold fast. Just keep asking “Why are you so mad, bro?” because at some point, and it’ll be obvious when, he will become really really mad!

Language has this strange power to create something. Or, in the case of me and my older brothers, the power to destroy something.

In this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, for the second Sunday of Eastertide, we see the resurrected Christ creating something incredibly powerful with his language. But before we get too far into that, the context of this passage is worth looking at.

First, it was evening on “that day,” that is, the day of the resurrection. The reason for their assembly is know known; maybe they’re gathering for a meal of remembrance, maybe they’re trying to figure out what to do with the words of Mary. Evidently this wasn’t significant enough for John to include. But what was significant to note was that the doors were locked for fear of the “The Jews.”

Knowing that at the time of John’s writing those early Christians were being cast out of the Temple sheds a bit of light on his perpetual use of “The Jews” and helps save us from anti-semitism. It must also be mentioned that the evangelist’s use of “The Jews” isn’t a reference to all Jewish people living at that time, but is most positively referring to those seated in power in Jerusalem. Some have argued that “The Jews” should be translated “The Judaeans.”[2] These were those powerful folks from Judea.

The question becomes, then, why did they fear them? Hadn’t they done their worst? Wasn’t their wrath satisfied?

It wasn’t just that they were still terrified of the Judaeans because the killed Christ (I mean, sure, that had to be part of it), but remember back to Holy Saturday’s Gospel passage; Matthew 27:57-66. While John and Matthew record different parts of the story for different reasons, intertextual analysis can be helpful. In this passage we read of the chief priests and pharisees asking Pilate for a Roman guard over they tomb. They said, “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”

The chief leaders from Jerusalem – The Judaeans? – have stated publicly that if the body of Jesus goes missing and people start proclaiming that he has been raised from the dead it would be worse than what Jesus said himself…


It makes sense, then, that the disciples[3] have gathered together behind a locked door.

Let’s also take a moment to look at the situation surrounding Believing Thomas. This poor fellow has received such a bad reputation, but he’s no different than the other disciples. The resurrected Jesus shows his wounds to the terrified disciples in that room on that day, says “Peace be with you,” breathes on them and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (More on that below)

The disciples then tell Thomas about the interaction; only it wasn’t just a one off telling. The Greek that gets translated as “told” is ἔλεγον; imperfect active indicative of λέγω. Most other times ἔλεγον is translated in the NT it is, “they were saying.” This was a repeated action. We can imaging that throughout the week they kept bugging Thomas about the resurrection.

A week later, they gather again. And again, the door is not just “shut” (NRSV) but is locked. (The same word is used in both instances.) Jesus tells Thomas to, not just gaze upon his wounds, but to touch them. His words to Thomas use the verbal adjective πίστις; and it’s used twice. He says, “Be not unbelieving, but be believing.” or “Be not unfaithing, but be faithing.” (yeah, I know, those aren’t real words…) Doubt and belief, according to Jesus, aren’t just these static realities, but are active and practiced.

Then Thomas gives this response that should have cleared his name. He’s not Doubting Thomas, he’s Believing Thomas. His response to the resurrection is, perhaps, one of the most holy statements in all of this Gospel, “My Lord and my God.” This is a holy confession of our resurrected Savior. It comes not out of the mouths of the disciples on that first week, but out of the mouth of Thomas on that second week. We see that Thomas is, absolutely, faithing.

And I think this confession of Thomas is of utter importance because I think that he, before the other disciples, gets it.

You see, Jesus is kind of like a younger brother who knows the very thing that is going to get under your skin. While he most certainly did not have the malice of a younger sibling, the thing he repeats to them over and over and over is the thing they really can’t grasp.

“Peace be with you.”

In our story today, Jesus has to say this to them three times over the course of two weeks. He has to say it to them until it becomes a reality for them. But I don’t think it’s something they really wanted to hear.

First of all, they were locked in a house because they thought The Judaeans might come after them for the missing body and proclamation that Jesus had been raised. There is obviously some tumult. Peace isn’t the thing they’re expecting or experiencing.

“Peace be with you.”

“Peace be with us? How can peace be with us when the Judaeans are going to kill us?”

Sure, they rejoice when they see the resurrected Christ, and sure they keep on telling Thomas about it, but when they gather again, the doors are locked again!

“Peace be with you.”

“My Lord and my God.”

It is Believing Thomas, or Confessing Thomas, who responds to the peace offered by Christ with the faithing confession.

As you preach this Easter passage this Sunday, there are so many avenues you could take it. You could emphasize the mission of Christ to the disciples; “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” You could emphasize the terrifying and holy responsibility of those who are sent, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” If you don’t already do this, you could incorporate a Passing of the peace, and, if you don’t already do this, you could place it immediately before communion as a way to extend the words of Christ before confessing who Christ is at the Table.

But however you preach this passage, and however you organize the liturgy, may the insistent peace of Christ – something into which we actively live – be with you and your congregation as you endeavor to be not unbelieving but believing.

Peace be with you.

[3] It should be noted that this is probably not just the 11.


[1] Were I a WWE wrestler, I think my signature move would be the “Eternal Death Grip.”

[2] This would also coincide better with the Greek “Ioudaios.”

[3] It should be noted that this is probably not just the 11.