My Dear People,
John provides insight into the spiritual disposition of Jesus’ disciples as they are gathered in Jerusalem. Mary Magdalene came to Jesus’ tomb “while it was still dark” (20:1). The disciples are similarly gathered in the evening darkness, signifying the absence of Christ, the light. Moreover, the disciples are filled with hopelessness and fear of the Jewish authorities who pushed for Jesus’ execution. Thus the doors were locked.
During the Farewell Discourse, Jesus told His disciples that they would “weep and mourn” (16:20) and be “in anguish” (16:22) when He left them. He also reassured them, “I will come back to you” (14:28). Now Jesus fulfills this promise: He came and stood in their midst. He speaks the words of shalom, the eschatological reconciliation between God and his people: “Peace be with you” (see Isa. 52:7; 57:19). Before He departed Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. . . Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (14:27).
The risen Jesus now gives the disciples the gift of His peace, which drives away their fear, for He incorporates them into communion with the Father. Through his cross and resurrection, Christ has “conquered the world” (16:33) and its ruler (12:31), and He has made His disciples “children of God” (1:12). There is, then, no reason for the disciples to fear.
The presence of the wounds of crucifixion on the risen Jesus’ body is significant. They indicate that the body resurrected to glory is the same one that dies on the cross (see Luke 24:39). Resurrection is not the return of a human being to ordinary mortal life but total transformation into a glorified mode of existence. As St. Paul wrote, the natural body is transfigured by the Holy Spirit into a glorified, “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). The wounds on Jesus’ resurrected body reveal that He is forever fixed in the act of love in which He died. The love and sacrifice that He offered on the cross are forever present before the Father as “expression for our sins, and…for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Jesus’ wounds also signify that the victory of the resurrection comes only through the cross.
The Jews asked Jesus to “show” them a sign to legitimize his words and deeds (2:18). Jesus responded with a statement about raising up the temple of his body (2:19). Now, when Jesus shows the disciples His risen body with its wounds, He provides the sign that legitimizes His words and deeds: His resurrection.
The disciples were in a state of grief, hopelessness, and fear, but they now rejoiced when they saw the Lord. We again recall Jesus’ words during the Farewell discourse: “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (16:22). The risen Jesus fills his disciples with the eschatological gifts of peace and joy, which proceed from sharing in the divine communion. These same gifts Paul counts among the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:L22-23), and in this scene, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit upon his disciples.
After repeating his words of Peace, Jesus draws the disciples into his own mission: As the Father has sent me, so I send you. The Gospel frequently speaks of Jesus as the envoy of the Father, sent to reveal Him and accomplish His saving word (e.g., 12:44-50). Now the risen Jesus commissions the disciples as His envoys and sends them into the world (see 17:18). The fellowship of Jesus’ disciple, the Church, is an extension of the work of the Father and the Son in the world.
In order to be an extension of Jesus’ work, the disciples need to be united to Him, as branches to the vine (15:4-5) and receive His divine assistance and power (see Luke 24:49). Accordingly, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This scene is John’s presentation of the reality of Pentecost: the risen Jesus sending the Holy Spirit upon His disciples (see Acts 2:1-4,33).
The Spirit “consecrates” the disciples for their mission, as Jesus himself was “consecrated and sent into the world” by the Father (10:36). Through the Spirit, the disciples are united to the risen Jesus and receive a share in His own life, and thus in the divine communion. The indwelling Holy spirit is a sign of their having a share in God’s eschatological salvation, for the Spirit makes the disciples a “new creation”. The Greek verb “breathed” recalls Gen. 2:7 and Ezek. 37:9, which speaks of God breathing life into His creatures at the first creation and in the eschatological new creation.
The risen Jesus connects the Holy Spirit with the Church’s power to forgive sins: Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. Jesus was first hailed in the Gospel as “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). He declared His saving work liberates humanity from slavery to the power of sin (8:34-36). By incorporating the disciples into His own mission, Jesus also gives them the authority to take away people’s sins and to administer God’s mercy through the power of the Holy Spirit. As discussed previously, the passive voice (“forgiven,” “retained”) suggests that here God is acting through His Church. Thus, the forgiveness administered by the Church on earth stands in heaven (see Matt 18:18).
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente