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AHC G My Lord and My God Easter 2 - Hebrew Catholics

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My Lord and My God

www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective

2nd Sunday of Easter            Years A, B, and C.

Click here for a printable copy of this paper

St. John 20: 19 — 31

 

Introduction

As we listen to this passage of St. John’s Gospel presented, we are privileged to be rendered spiritually present at one of the most significant moments in our Lord’s ministry. It is worthy of our closest attention, and provides very rich material upon which to meditate — that is, to feed spiritually.

We will reflect on the account and divide it into two parts:

Part 1.     Verses 19 to 23 Exchange of Peace Greetings

Part 2.     Verses 24 to 31 St. Thomas’s Declaration.

Click here for a printable copy of our text.

 

Reflections on Our Text

Part 1. Verses 19 to 23

Exchange of Peace Greetings


Verse 19

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the
doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear
of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and
said to them, “Peace be with you.”

The opening words indicate that it is still Easter Day when our Lord chose to visit His close disciples.

By the time St. John wrote his account of the Gospel, near the end of the first Century, Sunday was beginning to be celebrated more formally as the special time for Christians to mark, like this occasion, after work.

At this late afternoon gathering, the disciples locked the doors. Rumours had spread that the body of Jesus had been stolen from the tomb by some of His followers. The disciples were therefore on “high alert”, as the text says, “for fear of the Jews”.

In this Gospel, St. John refers to “the Jews# almost always as meaning the corrupt and antagonistic authorities; not to the Jewish people, to whom the first Christians saw themselves belonging.

#   “the Jews” — See article “The Jews In the Gospel of John” by R. G. Bratcher

Our Lord entered the locked room and stood among the disciples. He did not just suddenly appear. He majestically passed through the locked door and joined their company.

We might have expected Him to say, “What a great lot you all turned out to be! Where were you when I needed you most?” Instead He greets them in exactly the way He always had. In Hebrew (with slight variation if in a dialect such as Aramaic): “Shalom aleichem”, literally, “Peace to you,” that is, “Peace be upon you!” In very strict protocol, the disciples would all have replied, “Aleichem shalom,” literally, “To you, peace,” that is “Peace be upon you also,” confirming that they had accepted His gesture conferring Peace.

Our Lord’s quiet and gentle, traditional everyday greeting becomes for them a kind of absolution. When Jesus Messiah speaks peace, there is peace in the whole group and peace all around them, filling the whole room. That is the Jewish understanding, and we encourage our fellow Christians to exchange our Lord’s peace blessing whenever appropriate.

Verses 20 and 21

When he had said this, he showed them his hands
and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw
the Lord.

(Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Before going any further, our Lord shows His closest friends the wounds from His Crucifixion; and having seen the wounds, they are overjoyed. As St. Augustine taught, Jesus repeats His customary gift of peace, which is what the greeting implies, to reassure them. There is therefore an unmistakable emphasis on acknowledging the importance of peace, harmony, and unity; and that these are His to give to each one present; for them likewise, to pass on.

Our Lord then makes a forthright statement:

•     “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

It is a very wonderful commission, and they knew exactly what He meant, for He had already instructed them carefully during earlier preparation.

•     “I do not teach on my own authority.
       Quite the contrary; the Father, whose ambassador
       I am, has laid on me a commandment as to what I am
       to say and what I am to teach. And I know that His
       commandment means eternal life. Therefore,
       whatever I teach, I teach exactly as the Father has
       instructed me.”  John 12: 49 and 50 (Kleist and Lilly)

The Apostles had heard Jesus, in prayer, only a few nights earlier, to say within their hearing:

•     “As you have made me your ambassador to the
       world, so I am making them my ambassadors to the
       world.”                                  John 17: 18 (Kleist and Lilly)

Thus Jesus declares His intention to send them forth to proclaim His teaching — which He had received from the Father, and passed on to them.

At this point let’s pause and reflect on these extremely beautiful and important quotations spoken by the Lord Himself. As St. John taught in chapter 1 of his Gospel, Jesus Messiah is the Anointed One. He is the Word of God. He is the Teaching of God. This is what is called in the Old Testament, the Torah: Words of God, Teaching of God. Sometimes we use the term Law of God, but that must be understood in Hebrew culture — not in a modern Western sense. Jesus Christ is our Torah! He is the very Word of Adonai, the Lord God: and the time was approaching for His followers to see and proclaim this great truth.

Jesus is the Message. He is God’s instruction to mankind. He is the path to follow. Here He is commissioning His specially selected disciples to be His Apostles, and to go forth into the world to pass on this Message to all who would listen, and accept it — accept Him.

Verses 22 and 23

And when he had said this, he breathed on them
and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.

Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and
whose sins you retain are retained.”

As the disciples were to carry out the teaching and work of the Master; so too they were to be channels of His life-giving breath. He therefore breathed on them. This symbolic action fulfilled, for those present, our Lord’s promise of the Paraclete. The word for “breathed” is the same as used in Genesis 2: 7 at the Creation, and Ezekiel 37: 9, in the Greek version of the Old Testament. (This, until the 4th century, was the version the early Church used as its base text rather than the Hebrew). So the connection between God’s breathing life into the first man, life into dry bones, and new life into the disciples, is clearly evident. The Apostles are, in turn, to breath the words of peace, forgiveness and, new life into mankind. Only slowly, one step at a time, is this great truth dawning on these beloved friends of Jesus.

With the gift of the Spirit, Jesus directs how His gifts and authority are to be used: in the active demonstration of God’s mercy and lovingkindness! This can only be done through the agency of the Holy Spirit within, making the Apostles Jesus’ ambassadors. To those who respond, forgiveness is assured. But to those who refuse, their sins remain unforgiven, and their lives distorted, confused and lacking direction.

A good Question at this point

How are we to compare this account of the
Holy Spirit being given to the Apostles and
the great outpouring at Pentecost?

Some people talk as though the Holy Spirit didn’t appear until Pentecost. They ignore the presence of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters at Creation, preparing the earth and the waters for the production of life. They also miss the many signs of the work of the Spirit throughout the Old Testament.

Confusion can arise if we try to harmonise the breathing of the Holy Spirit by Our Lord on to His Apostles, and the gift at Pentecost. Each occurrence has its own special function. The gift of the Spirit on the day of the Resurrection is more in the nature of a gift to a specific group, with specific authority, and a specific mission.

On this occasion, in John 20: 22 and 23, our Lord does not give the indwelling of the Holy Spirit promised in His final discourses after the Last Supper. That is reserved for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, or “Shavuot,” the Feast of Weeks, as it is also called. Here it is the gift of a special spiritual power to promise absolution for sin and confer the blessed gifts of the spiritual life, in fact, the New Life of Jesus Christ. This authority was alluded to at the time of St. Peter’s declaration at Caesarea to Jesus — “You are the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God” It is now renewed and formally conferred upon all the Apostles. It is the institution of the Sacrament of Penance — of Reconciliation: the authority to pronounce a person fully restored to the Household of God, to fullness of life in peace and harmony with God and mankind. (Based on Ronald Cox: The Gospel Story)

Further reading: Appendix — Special Note John 20: 22 and 23.

 

Part 2. Verses 24 to 31

St. Thomas’s Declaration.

Verses 24 and 25

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was
not with them when Jesus came.

So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails
in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and
put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas, who had been absent from the Sunday evening meeting, was briefed by the others as to what happened. Understandably, Thomas outlines the condition on which he would believe the testimony of his fellow disciples. After all, they had the chance first to see Jesus’ wounds (v 20). He simply wanted the same opportunity. Thomas is very emphatic: “I will not believe it unless I myself see the proof!”

Verses 26 — 28

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and
Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors
were locked, and stood in their midst and said,
“Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see
my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

A week later Thomas is present when the disciples gather. Again Jesus appears and this time speaks to Thomas. First He uses Thomas’ own words, his emphatic condition upon which he would believe. But our Lord then immediately calls Thomas to a higher level of response: (literally) “Do not be unbelieving but believing”. In other words, “Thomas, put aside the world’s conditions for believing and allow all I have taught you to come alive and take over your mind and heart. Then you will be truly able to believe”.

This Thomas does instantly, and he accords Jesus with the most sublime acclamation ever made to him from human lips:

literally — “You are Adonai (LORD). You are my God,”

Three times daily, this devout Jew recited the most central prayer of Judaism from the Torah — the five Books of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 6: 4.

St. Thomas was, in fact. echoing the opening verse of Psalm 63 —

“O God, you are my God.

In this way St. Thomas gives witness to Jesus as Lord and God.

We need to remember that “Adonai,” translated as, “Lord,” was a respectful substitute for the most holy name of God: “Yahweh,” which was not used by the faithful but whispered once a year by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies.

This is the final high point of the Holy Gospel according to St. John. The Holy Spirit is actively present and at work among the Apostles.

Verses 29 — 31

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe
because you have seen me? Blessed are those
who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence
of (his) disciples that are not written in this book.

But these are written that you may (come to)
believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life
in his name.

Thomas’ acclamation is warmly received by Jesus. The acclamation of disciples who have not seen Jesus will move Heaven even more so. The Spirit continues to be at work in the Church today seeking to empower similar acts of faith and love in those who will place themselves at the disposal of the Holy Spirit. So with a warm and loving heart let us pray for one another that we will be open to receive the Holy Spirit. Let that be our special prayer for the next fifty days, until the Feast of Pentecost.

 

Conclusion

St. John’s Gospel closes with our Lord pronouncing a Hebrew blessing, or beatitude:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

With these words, St. John wrote the original conclusion to his Gospel. The other two verses were added by him later.

Aided by the Spirit of Truth, St. Thomas was able to respond to Jesus’ words: Stop doubting and believe.

His response has remained one of the most common prayers on the lips of Christ’s disciples ever since. The Fellowship presenting these Reflections encourages its members to recite the Shema (below) at least three times daily: every morning, afternoon / evening, and night-time. The Lord Jesus affirmed this prayer for His followers (St. Mark 12: 29 — 31). # It is the most emphatic declaration of our belief in the First Commandment, and is thus a powerful means to prevent idolatrous thoughts and action in our lives.

And so the meaning is clear to those who wish to be his disciples:

Through the Holy Spirit we too can proclaim Jesus to be Lord and God. This is what will be needed, if we are to resist all inclinations to follow after competing attractions, and remain loyal to our Blessed Messiah and everything He taught and continues to teach through His Body, the Church.

Let us go forth and proclaim it with power, that those who believe may also share in the Life of the risen Christ.

The Shema

Deuteronomy 6: 4 — 9

Shema Yishrael. Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.

‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!’

Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

St. Mark 12: 29 — 31

Jesus said,

The first Commandment is:
‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

The second is this:

‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19: 18)

There is no other commandment greater than these.

Click here for the full text of the Complete Shema

 

A Tribute

St. Thomas travelled to India in the first Century and there
established the Christian Church which through many trials
and persecutions has courageously continued to give witness
to our Lord Jesus Christ. We greet our fellow Christian
brothers and sisters in India and encourage you to emulate
your Patron Saint in your personal faith and Christian living.

 Lord Jesus:

You are Adonai! You are my Lord and my God.

Blessed be His Name, whose glorious Kingdom is forever and ever!

Amen.

Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — 2nd Sunday of Easter ― Year C

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

Additional Reading

•     The Complete “Shema”

•     Readings on the Apostle: St. Thomas

•     Special Note on St. John 20: 22 — 23

 

 

Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word
and in doing so, remain close to Him. The following are
only examples illustrating how you can note the gems
the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.

My Lord and My God

(Easter Day Year A)          (St. John 20: 19 — 31)

(Set 1)

1.     St. Paul, inspired by our Lord’s teaching and actions wrote to the Christian community at Corinth (1 Cor. 12: 28):

        “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. Some people God has designated in the Church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets, third, teachers; then mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues (languages).”

        The Church has constantly, over 2,000 years, upheld ordination to the Apostolic Office as the first and highest order concerned with ruling the Church in all aspects. Our Lord did not leave us to wander in the wilderness, but put in place the proper support His people would need, until He returns at the end of time. He had taught His Apostles (and thus all whom they appointed):

        “….. whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
                                                                    (See St. Mark 10: 42 — 45)

        St. Paul encouraged Christ’s followers to be loyal and obedient to those in authority in the Church, and thus to serve one another, as our beloved Messiah so ardently taught.

2.     When our Lord appeared to the Apostles gathered together after His Resurrection, He greeted them according to protocol, with the traditional, “Peace by with you”. But He also, in an unusual move, repeated the same greeting a few minutes later. This was no mere courtesy. He was well aware how disappointed they all were at their failure to give Him the support and comfort He needed after His arrest and trial on trumped up charges. So our Lord lovingly repeats His peace conveying salutation. He means just what He says. Here is the One through whom everything was created now commanding.

Be entirely at peace!

        This is a beautiful moment of restoration. He breathes New Life into them and they are fully revived.

        We too, suffer the greatest anxiety in failing the Lord, but His breath of New Life is there for us to take in at every moment. Indeed, He lets us see our shortcomings to remind us to come back to Him and be restored.

3.     We are surrounded by people who look upon us as naïve and feeble minded
because we believe the various accounts in the Scriptures — most especially, our Lord’s Resurrection. They claim they would believe if there were evidence! Christ’s persecutors said the same! Little has changed. But we are invited to remember Yeshua’s own blessing to be imparted to all His followers:

“Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.”

      Let us pray for one another that we will play our part by being a faithful link in the chain which reaches out to the most distant people and places.

Blessed be the most Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Shalom!

 

 

Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word
and in doing so, remain close to Him. The following are
only examples illustrating how you can note the gems
the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.

My Lord and My God

(Easter Day Year A)          (St. John 20: 19 — 31)

(Set 2)

1.     The Apostles, during our Lord’s Passion and Crucifixion, had all failed in loyalty to Him — one way or another. Our Lord’s greeting to them —almost as though nothing had happened — brought inner calm and confidence to them. He exemplifies how He will expect them to act in their new roles.

2.     After giving His peace greeting, He breathes on them. His breath is to commission the Church, which they now represent, to go forth and continue the work He was sent to do. We must see this great moment in the long unfolding story of God’s pursuit for the restoration of all mankind.

3.     The core of this work the Apostles, and thus the Church, are to pursue,
is the forgiveness of sin where it is genuinely sought after: releasing mankind from
misery. It is the fulfilment of the Prophet Isaiah 61:1— 2.

        “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners; to announce a year of favour from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn.”

        This had been the appointed task of our Lord, who now empowers the Church to take this blessing to all the world. That is our message and our task. Let us pray for one another that, together, we will follow in the Path provided by our Blessed Messiah, Jesus the Lord.

Shalom!

 Click here for a printable copy of these reflections

 

John 20: 19 — 31

2nd Sunday of Easter Years A, B, and C

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

19       11 12 On the evening of that first day of the week,
           when the doors
were locked, where the disciples were,
           for fear of the Jews, Jesus
came and stood in their midst
           and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

20       When he had said this, he showed them his hands and
           his side. 13
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

21       14 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you.
           As the Father has s
ent me, so I send you.”

22       15 And when he had said this, he breathed on them
           and said to them,
“Receive the holy Spirit.

23       16 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and
           whose sins you retain
are retained.”

24       Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not
           with them when Je
sus came.

25       So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen
           the Lord.” But he said t
o them, “Unless I see the
           mark of the nails in his hands and put my
finger into
           the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will
           not believe.”

26       Now a week later his disciples were again inside and
          Thomas was with
them. Jesus came, although the
          doors were locked, and stood in their
midst and
          said, “Peace be with you.”

27       Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see
          my hands, and
bring your hand and put it into my side,
          and do not be unbelieving,
but believe.”

28       17 Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29       18 Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because
          you have seen
me? Blessed are those who have not seen
          and have believed.”

30       19 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his)
          disciples that
are not written in this book.

31       But these are written that you may (come to) believe that
          Jesus is the
Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this
          belief you may have
life in his name.

11 [19-29] The appearances to the disciples, without or with Thomas (cf ⇒ John 11:16; ⇒ 14:5), have rough parallels in the other gospels only for ⇒ John 20:19-23; cf ⇒ Luke 24:36-39; ⇒ Mark 16:14-18.

12 [19] The disciples: by implication from ⇒ John 20:24 this means ten of the Twelve, presumably in Jerusalem. Peace be with you: although this could be an ordinary greeting, John intends here to echo ⇒ John 14:27. The theme of rejoicing in ⇒ John 20:20 echoes ⇒ John 16:22.

13 [20] Hands and . . . side: ⇒ Luke 24:39-40 mentions “hands and feet,” based on ⇒ Psalm 22:17.

14 [21] By means of this sending, the Eleven were made apostles, that is, “those sent” (cf ⇒ John 17:18), though John does not use the noun in reference to them (see the note on ⇒ John 13:16). A solemn mission or “sending” is also the subject of the post-resurrection appearances to the Eleven in ⇒ Matthew 28:19; ⇒ Luke 24:47; ⇒ Mark 16:15.

15 [22] This action recalls ⇒ Genesis 2:7, where God breathed on the first man and gave him life; just as Adam’s life came from God, so now the disciples’ new spiritual life comes from Jesus. Cf also the revivification of the dry bones in Ezekial 37. This is the author’s version of Pentecost. Cf also the note on ⇒ John 19:30.

16 [23] The Council of Trent defined that this power to forgive sins is exercised in the sacrament of penance. See ⇒ Matthew 16:19; ⇒ Matthew 18:18.

17 [28] My Lord and my God: this forms a literary inclusion with the first verse of the gospel: “and the Word was God.”

18 [29] This verse is a beatitude on future generations; faith, not sight, matters.

19 [30-31] These verses are clearly a conclusion to the gospel and express its purpose. While many manuscripts read come to believe, possibly implying a missionary purpose for John’s gospel, a small number of quite early ones read “continue to believe,” suggesting that the audience consists of Christians whose faith is to be deepened by the book; cf ⇒ John 19:35.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition (c)
2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are
used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the
New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from
the copyright owner.

Additional Reading

•     The Complete “Shema”

•     Readings on the Apostle: St. Thomas

•     Special Note on St. John 20: 22 — 23

 

The Complete Shema

 

Deuteronomy 6: 4 — 9

4     “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
5     Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart,
       and with all your
soul, and with all your strength.

6     Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
7     Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad,
       whether you are
busy or at rest.

8     Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant
       on your forehead.

9     Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 11: 13 — 21

13     If, then, you truly heed my commandments which I enjoin on
         you today, loving and
serving the LORD, your God, with all your
         heart and all your soul,

14     I will give the seasonal rain to your land, the early rain and
         the late rain, that you may
have your grain, wine and oil to
         gather in;

15     and I will bring forth grass in your fields for your animals.
        Thus you may eat your fill.

16     But be careful lest your heart be so lured away that you serve
         other gods and worship
them.
17     For then the wrath of the LORD will flare up against you and
         he will close up the
heavens, so that no rain will fall, and the
         soil will not yield its crops, and you will soon
perish from the
         good land he is giving you.

18     “Therefore, take these words of mine into your heart and soul.
         Bind them at your wrist
as a sign, and let them be a pendant
         on your forehead.

19     Teach them to your children, speaking of them at home and
         abroad, whether you are
busy or at rest.
20     And write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates,
21     so that, as long as the heavens are above the earth, you and
         your children may live on
in the land which the LORD swore
         to your fathers he
would give them.

 

Numbers 15: 37 — 41

37     The LORD said to Moses,
38     “Speak to the Israelites and tell them that they and their
         descendants must put tassels
on the corners of their garments,
         fastening each corner tassel with a violet cord.

39     When you use these tassels, let the sight of them remind you
         to keep all the
commandments of the LORD, without going
         wantonly astray after the desires of your
hearts and eyes.
40     Thus you will remember to keep all my commandments and
         be holy to your God.

41     I, the LORD, am your God who, as God, brought you out of
         Egypt that I, the LORD,
may be your God”.

 

New American Bible

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the
copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible
may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from
the copyright owner

 

Readings On The Apostle: St. Thomas

The closing verse of St. John’s Gospel are the subject of many studies and theories. Contemporary scholars provide a mass of helpful commentaries, which are easily accessed by those who wish to study them more deeply. On this site we make available some useful scholarship, which is much harder to find.

The text could be seen to have two parts:

a)     Verses 19 — 23, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and

b)     Verses 24 — 31, Thomas’ incredible mind-shift from scepticism
          to total belief. We offer some readings for each division in
          question / answer format. They are not definitive, they simply
          offer helpful perspectives.

 

What is the connection between the Gift of the Holy Spirit in
John 20 and Luke’s Pentecost in Acts?

Commenting on John 20: 22, Sadler (1886) writes:

The Spirit now given was for the Apostleship. Hitherto they had been, if one may say so, Apostles designate, because Christ was visibly present, and as He Himself worked on all occasions they had little to do in the way of representing Him, but now that He was on the eve of departure they were to supply the need of His visible Presence. So now He saith, “As my Father sent Me, so send I you,” and He breathed on them, and saith, as it were “Receive ye the Holy Ghost to fulfil your ministry, as those whom I send to act in My place.” This breathing was their full ordination to the Apostolic Office, which is the first of the Gifts of the Spirit to man (1 Cor. 12: 28, Ephes. 4: 11). It appears, then, that by this “breathing” they received the grace of the Holy Spirit to perform all Apostolic duties and functions, such as ruling the Church, appointing and regulating its pastors, government, ordinances, and worship; and, as all the ministry was then contained in them, they received the full grace of the Christian ministry to be in time to come conveyed by them to those whom they ordained to any office or work, as each office required. The Pentecostal gift consisted rather of visible powers, such as the gift of tongues, working of miracles, etc., to enable them to exercise their ministry on the scale, and with the astonishing success, which we read of at the planting of the Church. This breathing, then, betokened a special gift to them as Apostles, whereas the Pentecostal gift was on them and the whole Church, to enable that Church to exhibit the miraculous powers and the fruits of holiness by which it began to subdue the world.

 

What Does it mean: “He breathed on them”?

In this verse our Lord proceeds to confer a special gift on the disciples, and, as it were, to ordain them for the great work which He intended them to do. And we have in it a remarkable emblematical action, and a no less remarkable saying.

The action of our Lord, “He breathed on them”, one that stands completely alone in the New Testament, and the Greek work is nowhere else used. On no occasion but this do we find the Lord “breathing” on any one. Of course it was a symbolical action, and the only question is, What did it symbolize? and, Why was it used? My own belief is that the true explanation is to be found in the account of man’s creation in Genesis. There we read, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” (Gen.2: 7.) Just as there was no life in man until God breathed into him the breath of life, so I believe our Lord taught his disciples, by this action of breathing on them, that the beginning of all ministerial qualification is to have the Holy Spirit breathed into us; and that, until the Holy Ghost is planted in our hearts, we are not rightly commissioned for the work of the ministry.

I do not however feel sure that this view completely exhausts the meaning of our Lord when He breathed on the disciples. I cannot forget that they had all forsaken their Master the night that He was taken prisoner, fallen away from their profession, and forfeited their title to confidence as Apostles. May we not therefore reasonably believe that this breathing pointed to a revival of life in the hearts of the Apostles, and to a restoration of their privileges as trusted and commissioned messengers, notwithstanding their grievous fall? — I cannot help suspecting that this lesson was contained in the action of breathing. It not only symbolised the infusion for the first time of special ministerial gifts and graces. It also symbolised the restoration to complete power and confidence in their Master’s eyes, even after their faith had so nearly breathed its last, and given up the ghost. The first symptom of returning life, when a man is recovered from drowning, is his beginning to breathe again. To set the lungs breathing, in such cases, is the first aim of a skilful doctor.

When we remember that the wind is pre-eminently an emblem of the Holy Ghost (John 3: 8; Ezek. 37: 9; Acts 2: 2), we cannot fail to see that there is a beautiful fitness in the symbolical action, which our Lord has implied.

 

What Does it mean: “He breathed on them”?

Contemporary scholars (e.g. D. A. Carson) suggest verse 22 should be translated as: “And with that he breathed, and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”

A century ago J. C. Ryle wrote an interesting explanation which still has much to offer:

 In this verse our Lord proceeds to confer a special gift on the disciples, and, as it were, to ordain them for the great work which He intended them to do. And we have in it a remarkable emblematical action, and a no less remarkable saying.

The action of our Lord, “He breathed on them”, one that stands completely alone in the New Testament, and the Greek work is nowhere else used. On no occasion but this do we find the Lord “breathing” on any one. Of course it was a symbolical action, and the only question is, What did it symbolize? and, Why was it used? My own belief is that the true explanation is to be found in the account of man’s creation in Genesis. There we read, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” (Gen.2: 7.) Just as there was no life in man until God breathed into him the breath of life, so I believe our Lord taught his disciples, by this action of breathing on them, that the beginning of all ministerial qualification is to have the Holy Spirit breathed into us; and that, until the Holy Ghost is planted in our hearts, we are not rightly commissioned for the work of the ministry.

I do not however feel sure that this view completely exhausts the meaning of our Lord when He breathed on the disciples. I cannot forget that they had all forsaken their Master the night that He was taken prisoner, fallen away from their profession, and forfeited their title to confidence as Apostles. May we not therefore reasonably believe that this breathing pointed to a revival of life in the hearts of the Apostles, and to a restoration of their privileges as trusted and commissioned messengers, notwithstanding their grievous fall? — I cannot help suspecting that this lesson was contained in the action of breathing. It not only symbolised the infusion for the first time of special ministerial gifts and graces. It also symbolised the restoration to complete power and confidence in their Master’s eyes, even after their faith had so nearly breathed its last, and given up the ghost. The first symptom of returning life, when a man is recovered from drowning, is his beginning to breathe again. To set the lungs breathing, in such cases, is the first aim of a skilful doctor.

When we remember that the wind is pre-eminently an emblem of the Holy Ghost (John 3: 8; Ezek. 37: 9; Acts 2: 2), we cannot fail to see that there is a beautiful fitness in the symbolical action, which our Lord has implied.

 

Did Thomas need to touch Jesus before he believed?

J C Ryle offers his answer:

Whether, after all, Thomas did actually touch our Lord’s wounds, as he was told to do, is an open question, which we have no means of deciding. There is certainly, as Augustine observes, no proof that he did, and his exclamation reads as if it was sudden and immediate, and not the result of examination and deliberation. May we not well believe that the discovery of our Lord’s perfect acquaintance with every word that he had said on the previous Sunday, combined with the evidence of his own eyes that he saw before him a material body, and not a spirit, would be enough to convince him? The question is an open one, and every reader must form his own opinion about it. We are neither told that Thomas did touch our Lord nor yet that he did not. Certainly our Lord says in the next verse, “Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed.”

 

How can faith and reason co-exist? 

J. C. Ryle comments in the style of a century ago:

Nothing is more common now a days than to hear people say, that they “decline to believe things above their reason, that they cannot believe what they cannot entirely understand in religion, that they must see everything clearly before they can believe.” Such talk as this sounds very fine, and is very taken with young persons and superficially educated people, because it supplies a convenient excuse for neglecting vital religion altogether. But it is a style of talking which shows a mind either proud, or foolish, or inconsistent.

In matters of science, what sensible man does not know that we must begin by believing much which we do not understand taking many positions of trust, and accepting many things on the testimony of others? Even in the most exact science the scholar must begin with axioms and postulates. Faith and trust in our teachers are the very first conditions of acquiring knowledge. He that begins his studies by saying. “I shall not believe anything which I do not see clearly demonstrated from the very first,” will make very little progress.

In the daily business of life, what sensible man does not know that we take many important steps on no other ground than the testimony of others? Parents send sons to Australia, New Zealand, China, and India, without ever having seen these countries, in faith that the report about them is dependable and true. Probability, in fact, is the only guide of most parts of our life.

In the face of such facts as these, where is the common sense of saying, as many rationalists and sceptics now do, that in such a mysterious matter as the concern of our souls, we ought to believe nothing that we do not see, and ought to receive nothing as true which will not admit of mathematical demonstration? — Christianity does not at all refuse to appeal to our intellects, and does not require of us blind, unreasoning faith. But Christianity does ask us to begin by believing many things that are above our reason, and promises that, so beginning, we shall have more light and see all things clearly. — The would-be wise man of modern times says, “I dislike a religion which contains any mystery.”

I must first see, and then I will believe.” Christianity replies, “You cannot avoid mystery, unless you go out of the world. You are only asked to do with religion what you are always doing with science. You must first believe and then you will see.” — The cry of the modern sceptic is, “If could see I would believe.” The answer of the Christian ought to be, “If you would only believe, and humbly ask for Divine teaching, you would soon see.”

The plain truth is that modern freethinkers are like the leaders of Jesus’ own people who were always demanding some visible sign that our Lord was the Messiah and pretended that they would believe if they only saw it. Just in the same way there are hundreds of people in this latter age of the world, who tell us they can believe nothing which is above their reason, and that they want stronger evidences of the truth of the doctrine and fact of Christianity than probability. Like Thomas they must first see before they believe. — But what an extraordinary fact it is that the very men who say all this, are continually acting all their lives on no better evidence than probability! They are continually doing things on no other ground than the report of others, and their own belief that this report is probably true. The very principle on which they are incessantly acting, in the affairs of their bodies, their families, and their money, is the principle on which they refuse to act in the affairs of their souls! In the matters of this world they believe all sorts of things which they have not seen, and only know to be probable, and act on their belief. In the matters of religion they say they can believe nothing which they do not see, and refuse the argument of probability altogether.

Never in fact, was there anything so unreasonable and inconsistent as rationalism, so called! No wonder that our Lord laid down, for the benefit of Thomas and the whole Church, that mighty principle, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.”

 End of Readings.

 

Appendix – Special Note on John 20: 22 — 23

In recognition of the faith of our Protestant brothers and sisters who read these reflections, we acknowledge and respect the difference between the various interpretations of these very special verses from St John. We have gathered a few quotations from Catholic scholarship to clarify the teaching of the Catholic Church to assist our readers understand the position taken by their Catholic friends.

In our Hebrew Catholic understanding of this teaching of Jesus Messiah, the Church, from its infancy looked upon the power to pronounce absolution for sin as exercised under the authority of persons appointed to administer this ministry ― as had been the case historically in Judaism.

 

1. W. Leonard (St John. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture 1953)

By the symbolic gesture of breathing upon them he signified that he was communicating the Holy Spirit — a partial anticipation of the gift of Pentecost. The words ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost’ made the meaning quite clear. The power of remitting and retaining sins, clearly supposes judicial authority exercised over sins in a tribunal. Accordingly the Church has perpetually understood this act of the Saviour as the institution of the sacrament of Penance (Trent, Sess. 4). Thus the sacrament of pardon was instituted under a double sign of the Saviour’s peace, on the most joyful day of the world’s history. It should be noted that in the intention of Christ who gave this power to the members of an apostolic college, Thomas, who was absent, also received it.

 

2. W.L. Newton (St John. A Commentary on the New Testament 1942)

The power to forgive sins was conferred in a special way, ― for it was one of the principal features of their mission. The Council of Trent (Sess. cap. 5 ― 6; Denzinger, 899 ― 902) has defined that this verse proves a ministerial power to forgive sins. Compare with St. Luke 24: 49, where the Apostles are told to await the power from on high; yet on this occasion the Holy Spirit was actually given them. The term receive implies “here and now.” The spirit is the principle of their new life, but here He confers a special power.

“He breathed on them.” Compare with Genesis 2: 7; Wisdom 15: 11; Ezekiel 37: 9; external sign of this power. Its nature, the forgiving or retaining of sins, is made very clear. Here that power is definitively conferred. The forgiveness is to be effected through an act of their judgment, not merely through the faith of the penitent.

 

3. Bruce Vawter, C.M. (Jerome Biblical Commentary St. John 1968)

23. The giving of the Spirit is here specifically related to the power given to the Church to continue the judicial character of Christ (3: 19; 5: 27; 9: 39) in the matter of sin (St. Matthew 9: 8; 16: 19; 18: 18; St. Luke 24: 47). Catholic tradition (DB 920; DS 1710) has rightly seen in this act the origin of the Sacrament of Penance, even though it is equally true that the Church’s power over sin is also exercised in baptism and the preaching of the redemptive word.

 

 

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