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Pentecost A Gospel

John 20:19-23

Ben Cremer

On the second Sunday of Easter, we read this account ending with Jesus encouraging Thomas to not be unbelieving, but believe. Jesus is encouraging Thomas to not allow anything to limit his faith from growing into the reality of the resurrected Lord. On this Sunday of Pentecost, we are again invited to understand the power God used to raise Jesus from the dead as the Holy Spirit, which is capable of breaking anything that might limit our faith potential.

At the beginning of our passage, we see the presence of the risen Lord bearing the marks of his sacrificial love causing great joy among the disciples (v20). They had secluded themselves behind closed doors out of fear of the Jewish leaders. They had followed Jesus under the assumption that he would be the military messiah who would finally liberate them from their oppressors. No doubt, they had developed a reputation for themselves as being insurrectionists. So, this fear was not simply born out of finding themselves leaderless, but also out of a very real possibility of sharing Jesus’ fate as co-conspirators. However, the first act of Christ as he stood among them was to speak subversively to their perceived reality. He spoke peace to them, even in the face of their very real circumstances. As we read on, we find that his words combined with his resurrected presence results in sheer joy. Faith limiting fear was dispelled by Jesus’ generous gift of peace.

This greeting of peace would be quickly followed by another. Only this time, it is connected to the disciples participating in the same mission on which Christ had been dispatched by the Father (v21). After this incredible news, he equipped them for such a task. Jesus drove the disciple’s fear away to make room for the equipping gift of God: the Holy Spirit. How did he grant such a gift? He breathed on them (v22).

In reading this verse, perhaps we are to reflect on God breathing life into dry bones in Ezekiel’s presence (Ezekiel 37:5), or even further back to God breathing life into humanity in the beginning (Genesis 2:7). In both accounts the breath displayed the power of God where we only see limitations. Where we only see dust, dry bones, fear, and division, God sees potential for new life. The same happens here. Jesus speaks the words, “receive the Holy Spirit” and breathes on them (v22). Whenever anyone speaks, one’s breath is always commingled with their words. The same ruach (רוּחַ ), or breath that Jesus breaths is the same breath all of humanity was given at the beginning. In both speaking words of peace and equipping, Jesus breaths the Spirit of life onto those who were once captive and vulnerable by their division and fear. Jesus gives them the breath of true and obedient life they always need to be leading.

We need to remember that the subversive reality of the Holy Spirit is one that deeply unsettles us. While we may sing songs glorifying and inviting the Holy Spirit to fill us, we often do not take into account how it may subdue our fears and send us directly to those who have a vendetta against us. Moreover, the Holy Spirit may lead us to be the very ones who upset the status quo, which we tend to admire especially if we have helped to bring the status quo about. The disciples were on the one side of two extremes. Rome was determined to maintain the status quo of “Pax Romana” (peace of Rome) at any cost, while the disciples wanted to “make Israel great again.” However, both extremes detailed a clear picture of greatness that relied upon who should be included and who should be excluded. In his ministry, Jesus did not show favoritism towards anyone, but ministered to his disciples and Roman centurions alike (Luke 7:1-10; Matt. 8:5-13). Jesus was primarily concerned about inviting others out of their own picture of life and into the true life of God. The Holy Spirit will breakdown anything that limits our faith in God and our relationships with one another. Even at the expense of our own normal. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to understand that the moment we place ourselves in the position of deciding who is including and who is excluded, we will find ourselves on the opposite side